MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - When Sidney Chism walks into a room, the first thing you want to say to him is “Howdy.” The Shelby County Commission Chairman is known for wearing a cowboy hat and boots when in public. Don’t let the old buckaroo fool you, though. He’s also known for his tough talking on issues, like the suburbs starting their own school systems.
“I’ve always said I had no problem with them having their own systems,” Chism says. “But don’t ask me to pay for anything. Don’t ask me to give you anything. If you want to do it, you pay for it in its entirety.”
Shelby County Commissioners filed a lawsuit trying to stop the August 2nd vote on the municipal schools issue. They are saying that the law allowing the suburbs to have their own school systems is unconstitutional and creates separate and unequal school systems. “The number of African American kids we have in Shelby County municipalities is a small number,” he says. “That makes it a racial issue whether I like it or not, or whether they like it or not.”
One person who doesn’t like Commissioners calling it a racial issue is Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. “I took issue with the racial tone of the lawsuit,” he says, “…because in many ways it was conjecture. If race is going to be a part then I’d rather be seeing some definitive evidence of that.”
Luttrell says the clock continues to run as the city and county schools are scheduled to merge in August of 2013. The mayor was a member of the Transitional Planning Committee, the group assigned to come up with a merger plan. “We’re now about a year through the two year transition process,” Mayor Luttrell says. “So we’re almost halfway to the day when we actually merge the school system.”
Federal Judge Samuel Mays will meet with attorneys on Monday. Meanwhile, Colliervile and other suburbs want to be have their opinions heard in this lawsuit, and will ask to become part of the process during the Monday afternoon meeting. Judge Mays has yet to set a date for the full hearing.