On Monday, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors delayed a vote on the sale of the former East Oktibbeha High School building, which has been vacant since county and Starkville school districts consolidated in 2015.
Because the school is located on 16th Section land, the school district can’t sell the school, but it can swap the property for another parcel, which was the plan the school board has worked out with a manufacturer. The swap will allow the school district to earn income by selling the timber rights on the new property it acquires in the land swap.
To complete the deal, the school district needs approval from the county because the old school is located on county land.
Supervisors tabled their vote Monday after members of a nonprofit educational group, The Educational Association of East Oktibbeha County Schools (EAEOCS), objected on the grounds that it would take away a facility that could be used for their programs.
No doubt, the supervisors will have competing interests to consider before taking up the matter at their next meeting on July 6.
Among those considerations, the supervisors may do well to consider the Parable of the Talents, as found in the Book of Matthew.
In that parable, a master divided his wealth (in units called “talents”) among his three servants for safekeeping until his return from a long journey. Two of the servants invested what was entrusted to them, creating dividends for the master upon his return.
The third servant simply buried the talent that was left to his care.
The master was angry with the third servant for not making use of what was left to him, taking it from him and giving it to one of the other more industrious servants.
A parallel can be drawn between the EAEOC and that third servant. The organization has had access to the old high school for six years now, yet aside from occasional reunions, it has yet to use the facilities for any programs or educational events.
As supervisors weigh their options, the most important consideration is what is the best use for the taxpayer-owned building. Approve the transfer, and there’s some reason to believe the transaction would pay dividends for the school district through timber rights.
Deny the transfer, and the building remains not only unprofitable but a liability due to maintenance costs.
The new owners, recognizing the old school’s historical significance as the county’s Black high school during integration, say they will take care to designate an area at the facility where the school’s history can be preserved and honored.
Given that, the question before the supervisors is whether they believe the EAEOCS will begin to do what it has failed to do for the past six years — put the building to good use.
If the supervisors approve the transfer, the EAEOCS will have no one to blame but itself.
The group has had ample time to prove the value of the old high school. It has not met that obligation.
A buried talent profits no one.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.