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Clay County consolidation bill now mirrors Oktibbeha County


Carl Smith



Legislators finalized a six-person conference committee Wednesday to work out House and Senate differences in a potential Clay County school consolidation bill. 


State Reps. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, Gary Chism, R-Columbus, and John Moore, R-Brandon, will serve as the House's delegation, while Sens. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, and Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, will represent the Senate. 


Barker, Chism and Moore are also serving as the House's committee delegation for the Starkville-Oktibbeha school merger bill. The Senate's committee representation remains unannounced. 


Moore leads the House Education Committee, while Tollison serves as the Senate Education Committee chairman. Collins is the Senate Education Committee's vice chair. 


Chism said Tuesday lawmakers are expected to work through Easter weekend on various bills before deadlines approach. Both Clay and Oktibbeha merger bills could be addressed then if conference reports are not filed until Friday, he said. 


"Just because (senators) haven't been named doesn't mean Toby hasn't been visiting with Tollison about 716 and the Clay County bill," Chism said in reference to the Starkville-Oktibbeha bill's committee. "If a report is filed on Thursday, we could take it up Friday; if it's Friday, we could take it up Saturday. As long as it's on our calendar for action, we'll try to clear up things with both bills as quickly as we can instead of delaying them until Monday or Tuesday." 


The two bills are listed on both chambers' Thursday calendars. For a measure to continue forward, Chism said two of the three legislators from both delegations must OK a compromise. If both full chambers support the final consensus, then the bill would be sent to Gov. Phil Bryant's desk for approval. 


As originally filed by Tollison, SB 2637 called for merging the Clay County School District and West Point School District into the West Point Consolidated School District in 2015. Senate amendments then pushed the date up to 2014. The amended measure passed from the Senate floor in February by 45-0 vote. 


The House then struck most of SB 2637 and replaced it with language calling for the creation of a local study committee whose members would investigate all local issues associated with consolidation. Senate amendments to HB 716 would also create a similar committee for local consolidation efforts. 


The Commission on West Point Consolidated School District Structure would be comprised of Interim State Superintendent of Education Lynn House or a Mississippi Department of Education designee, two representatives of the city school district appointed by its local board of trustees, two residents of the county school district and both school districts' superintendents. 


Like the Commission on Starkville-Oktibbeha County School District Structure, Clay County's exploratory group would also be required to give a comprehensive merger report to the legislature, MDE and Bryant by Jan. 1, 2014. 


Representatives passed their version of the measure 111-6 on March 12. Reps. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, Barker and Moore entered a motion to reconsider that same day, but it was tabled a day later. 


The Senate declined to concur with the House's version of SB 2637 and invited conference on March 20. 


Clay County School District, one of the smallest in the state, spends almost $350,000 on administration costs for fewer than 160 students, Tollison told the Associated Press in January. The district has a working deal to send junior and high school students to the city school system.


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch



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