Starkville School District representatives and stakeholders will yet again lobby lawmakers this legislative term for state-level funding that could help facilitate various construction projects as the system joins with Oktibbeha County School District in 2015.
Despite receiving no state funding in the last term, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said lobbyists again will seek monies for the proposed construction of a grades 6-7 school on Mississippi State University’s campus and an expanded pre-kindergarten program.
Both projects were conceptualized by the local Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure last year before law makers approved bills rubberstamping the group’s suggestions.
The committee’s report to lawmakers asked for up to $18 million, including $9 to build the grades 6-7 school and up to $8 million for construction and operation of the pre-kindergarten program. Commissioners also sought a five-year, $1 million funding stream for the program’s operation.
While the legislature answered many of the commission’s requests — it approved calls for an expiring board seat to remain in office until Jan. 1, 2017, thereby preventing a protracted vacancy from occurring before November 2016’s general election; tasked Oktibbeha County supervisors with providing administrative offices, furnishings and utilities for the consolidated district’s superintendent; and codified the upcoming partnership with MSU — it did not specifically allocate funding for either renovation efforts for existing campuses or the construction of new schools.
State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said lawmakers previously discussed opening up the state’s $25 million-capped public school building fund for districts under forced consolidation orders for construction projects, but it is unlikely representatives will allocate new funding streams for such endeavors this upcoming legislative session.
“We talked about allowing these districts that are consolidating to get first priority in that fund, but there were no further discussions,” he said. “We’ve been trying to do more with (the Mississippi Adequate Education Program), so fewer dollars have gone to that fund. There is always (Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning) bond funds, but the college system is currently utilizing those for individual universities’ major projects.”
Oktibbeha County School District previously increased a local millage levy to its 3-mill cap this summer and will use the funds to help prepare two campuses for consolidation. SSD continues to service a variety of improvement projects with its own levies and is bidding for other projects in conjunction with OCSD.
If lawmakers do not deliver new funding streams for construction projects, SSD could flex additional mills for those efforts once about 4 mills of its own tax levy rolls off the books in the upcoming years.
Questions remain about district offices
The fate of how the Greensboro Center, the county education building and Starkville’s new city hall will play in the administration of Oktibbeha County’s upcoming consolidated school system remains unanswered as administrators quietly await the city’s potential purchase of Main Street’s Cadence Bank branch.
SSD, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors and officials within Starkville’s city government remain at a standstill until the potential $2.55 million city purchase is evaluated, studied and executed.
City officials want to purchase the bank and renovate it for Starkville Police Department’s future base of operations. Holloway previously confirmed talks with the city about a potential SSD move into the new city hall once Starkville Municipal Court is moves to the new police station.
Starkville’s representatives have yet to confirm the proposed programming of the Cadence Bank building.
Holloway told supervisors that the county education building would still be needed under the potential plan, but many board members have alluded to a possible move into the building for Oktibbeha County Emergency Management and even the board of supervisors’ administrative offices.
Supervisors and Holloway discussed the building needs Monday but did not reach a resolution to the situation.
Starkville aldermen will discuss a potential property acquisition during their 5:30 p.m. meeting today at City Hall. It is believed the Cadence Bank deal and its moving parts — potential sales of lagoon property north of the city and Starkville’s current municipal home — will be discussed behind closed doors, but officials declined to comment on the specifics of the executive session agenda item.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch