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School officials concerned about mandatory consolidation




Neither the Starkville nor Oktibbeha County school districts will have the final say when it comes to whether or not the two will be consolidated next year. A a new bill filed at the state capital last week makes it mandatory. 


SSD Superintendent Dr. Lewis Holloway, along with three board members, traveled to Jackson Friday to meet with the House Education Committee, but Holloway said he knew the trip was merely a formality.  


"They aren't asking our approval," Holloway said. "They are asking what we think, and we told them what we thought about it, but it's not like it's something that our board is going to get to vote on." 


No representative from the Oktibbeha County School District attended Friday's meeting. 


The city school district received a "C" rating in the Mississippi Department of Education's 2010-2011 accountability rankings released in September.  


The county school district received a "D" and was placed under state control at the end of September 2012, with MDE officials citing violations of 29 of 30 required accreditation standards, including having a record of poor student performance, inaccurate and unreported personnel and payroll documents, failure to report complete and accurate board meeting minutes and school buses which failed to meet safety inspections. 


State Rep. Toby Barker, who represents Forrest and Lamar counties, filed the bill last Tuesday. If passed, the current boards of trustees for both districts would be dismissed.  


A new consolidated board would be elected next January and a new superintendent would be appointed as the consolidated district's chief administrator. The new district would begin operations August 2014. 


Holloway is one of several SSD officials wary of such a consolidation. 


"We don't know how this bill will play out, but we are gravely concerned," he said. "It could negatively affect our school district. We are, of course, concerned about OCSD children, but we are more concerned about the children in our district, and a merger would take away some resources from our children." 


Among a slew of other concerns, there are questions from SSD officials of how removing the current SSD administration would be in the best interest of a consolidated district.  


"We have a strong central administration," board president Keith Coble said. "We don't want to see that upset." 


The process for the approval of Mississippi House Bill 716 has begun, according to board member Lee Brand, who made the trip to Jackson Friday with Holloway.  


Brand said he understands the motives behind the bill -- the OCSD has been taken under conservatorship twice -- but he left the meeting more concerned that there was no representation from the county. 


"I think all the parties need to be at the table, because there are lot of issues that need to be considered," Brand said. 


Coble said another one of the logistics he took issue with was funding.  


The bill allots $1 million dollars to be put into a trust for the new consolidated district, but Holloway said it is unclear what purpose the funds will serve. There is a clause that says no more than $200,000 of the amount can be spent each year. This is the minimal amount to operate a district, Holloway and Coble said. 


But it would barely be enough to replace the roof on one of the city's schools, Holloway said. 


"First of all we have an enormous amount of sympathy for the Oktibbeha County students, but we want the state to be fair and responsible to do what they have to do to get down all the details," Coble said. "Given the timeline, there are still a lot of infrastructure and funding questions we have."




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