January 30, 2013 10:21:53 AM
A proposed House bill that would consolidate the schools in Starkville and Oktibbeha County would not mean a change on the Starkville School District's board of trustees, Superintendent Dr. Lewis Holloway said.
When House Bill 716 was originally filed last week, it called for both the Oktibbeha County School District and SSD's boards to be disbanded and replaced with a new, elected board.
District officials, who were notified Thursday of the proposed bill, have been back and forth to Jackson since Friday to discuss the issue with the House Education Committee and make recommendations on how the mandatory consolidation would work best for SSD students.
No Oktibbeha County School District officials have been asked to attend those meetings.
The SSD sent an AlertNow email to faculty and staff informing them of amendments the district officials have asked to be made to the bill.
"Our position is to do the best we can to protect Starkville and our resources for the long term," Holloway said.
The proposed change to keep the district's current board is one of several Holloway hopes to see made to the bill before any vote is taken.
The entire board would remain intact during the consolidation phase, which would last until the current term ends in March 2015. The Starkville board of aldermen would then appoint three new board members, while the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors would appoint one. The fifth member would be elected.
Holloway said legislators did like the idea of keeping the lines of the districts the same during consolidation until the new district decides to change them, which would mean no students would be forced to change schools immediately.
There will also likely be language included to ensure any debt with the county schools will remain with county residents and vice versa.
There is a need for an inventory of OCSD's facilities, available technologies and assessment systems before any concrete language is passed, Holloway said.
The SSD has put a lot of focus on developing the district's access to state-of-the-art technology. It has also implemented new assessment programs to track student progress. The district received a "C" rating, which is classified as "successful," from the Mississippi Department of Education for 2010-2011 but finished only 11 points from being deemed "high-performing."
"If this is going to happen, it seems they need to move their district to be more like ours," Holloway said.
The OCSD was placed under state control after failing to meet 29 of 30 required accreditation standards and receiving a "D" from MDE at the beginning of this school year. State Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, who sponsored the bill, hopes by consolidation, the county school district will raise its performance to that of the SSD.
Holloway said Tuesday that legislators promised that if consolidation occurs, the districts' Quality Distribution Index scores would be calculated separately for five years. Holloway said he felt that would be important in keeping SSD at a successful level while still giving his administrators a chance to make improvements at county schools.
Barker, who represents Forrest and Lamar counties, was unavailable for comment by press time. Holloway said to his knowledge, Barker has never been to either school district nor spoken with anyone in the administration of either district.
"It is somewhat hard to take, for someone from Hattiesburg to tell you to consolidate," Holloway said Friday. "We think they should work on issues in their own communities, not over here."
A bill that would consolidate West Point and Clay County schools is also under consideration.
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