STARKVILLE — It has been 14 months since the lease between Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the Oktibbeha County Board of Schools expired.
Each township in the state is divided into one square mile sections. Title to the 16th section of each township is held by the state and leased and managed by local school boards. Proceeds from 16th section leases benefit the local schools.
The 25-year lease for the campground facilities, signed in 1986, gave the MDWFP management control of the 16th Section land adjacent to the county-owned Oktibbeha County Lake. The state agency declined to renew its lease after a recent appraisal. 16th section land must be reappraised at least every 10 years and rents must be set at fair market value. MDWFP was paying an annual rent of $2,500 before the reappraisal.
On Monday, just prior to the regular meeting of the Board of Schools, the board members met with the county supervisors to discuss the status of the property. Mike Ainsworth, who is the manager of 16th Section land for the school district, explained the state requirements of the lease and said no qualified proposals had been presented for new lessees.
Ainsworth said a popular notion 16th Section Land leases were for a 99-year term was a fallacy.
“The longest lease you can have is for 40 years,” Ainsworth explained. “And in that case, the individual has to have a letter from the lending institution that guarantees a loan at the appraised value of the property. In the absence of that, the lease is for 25 years.”
Ainsworth noted no proposals had met the qualifying standards.
“We are in now hurry to do this,” he said. “We want to make a decision that is not only best for the school district but for the general public, too,”
School board members and county supervisors expressed their concerns the property remains open to public use. Of more pressing concern was the upkeep of the property and facilities, in the absence of a lease, as well as liability issues. The land includes camping sites, boat ramps, picnic areas and a multi-purpose building.
“What happens if somebody gets hurt out there?” asked District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard.
During its regular meeting, the Board of Schools approved a state-mandated sex education policy. By state law, schools are required to adopt one of two policies — Abstinence Only or Abstinence Plus, which provides information on contraception and other forms of birth control.
Schools Superintendent James Covington recommended grades first through six adopt the Abstinence Only policy and grades seven through 12 adopt the Abstinence Plus policy.
Covington noted parents of children could opt out of the Abstinence Plus, if they chose. The Board unanimously approved the recommendation.