February 12, 2013 11:38:45 AM
Two separate discussions on a pending county-wide school consolidation bill are scheduled for 6 p.m. today.
While District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard moderates an informal public discussion on the possible merger at the Oktibbeha County Courthouse Annex, the Starkville School District Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss the topic during its regular meeting at the Greensboro Center.
Today's meeting will be the first scheduled opportunity city school board members will have to discuss the topic in a regular board session, while Howard's forum is the first such forum for county residents to voice their opinions.
Three Oktibbeha County supervisors - Orlando Trainer, Joe Williams and Howard - support consolidation efforts, but SSD officials have not taken an official stance on the matter.
Since consolidation now is a legislative matter, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway says no school board action is required during tonight's meeting.
"The House has not asked for our opinion except for how it would impact us as a district," Holloway said. "I don't look for there to be a vote to oppose or get involved. We, frankly, have not had time to analyze this bill to see the full costs or problems that could arise."
HB 716, filed by state Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, would merge Oktibbeha County School District with SSD in 2015. The school system would then be renamed the Starkville Countywide Municipal Separate School District. If passed by the legislature, the State Board of Education will establish a consolidation time line and provide instructions for the two districts on or before Sept. 1.
Barker represents Lamar and Forrest counties. State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said last week the consolidation bill could be discussed on the full House floor this week.
Following last week's Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors meeting, Howard said county residents' opinions should be documented as the bill progresses through the legislature. Today's meeting, he said, will serve as a refresher on HB 716 for those residents with questions and a way to document the public's support for or opposition to consolidation.
"Overall, we want to send the message that we're all in this together," Howard said. "We want to work with everybody involved to move forward and make a smooth transition. We're talking about our future generations here. It's critical to involve everybody and receive input from across the county."
Chism and Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, both say a consolidated school system would not only provide a quality education for all public school children, but also strengthen the area's workforce.
"This is one of the best educational events that has ever happened in Oktibbeha County since integration," Trainer said. "When you look at long-range planning, you have to do what's best for the children. Our representatives in Jackson are doing that for us."
SSD officials traveled to Jackson last month and spoke with state lawmakers after the merger proposal was filed. Amendments were then made to the bill which would allow the city school district's current administration and school board to remain intact through the early stages of consolidation. As amended, a school board seat expiring March 2015 would then be appointed by county supervisors, three positions would remain city-appointed and an elected position would remain chosen by residents outside Starkville's city limits but within SSD boundaries.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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