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House adopts school merger bills for Oktibbeha, Clay

 

State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus

State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus

 

 

Carl Smith

 

State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, confirmed Wednesday the House adopted two separate conference reports for Golden Triangle school consolidation. 

 

Representatives overwhelmingly supported conference committee reports for HB 716 - the Starkville-Oktibbeha County merger bill - and SB 2637 - a similar measure for Clay County school consolidation. 

 

The Senate is expected to take up the Oktibbeha County conference report today. With Wednesday's action, both chambers have now supported the West Point-Clay merger bill. 

 

SB 2637 calls for the creation of the West Point Consolidated School District in 2015, while HB 716's language would create a study commission tasked with exploring a possible Starkville-Oktibbeha County merger also in 2015. 

 

The HB 716 conference committee report says the study commission must present a report of its findings to legislators, the Mississippi Department of Education and Gov. Phil Bryant by March 1, 2014. Its findings are not binding toward a future consolidation, and the bill still points to a merger one year later. 

 

SB 2637 is now expected to head to the governor's desk for his signature. 

 

An amended version of the Clay County bill which pushed up consolidation to 2014 passed the Senate Feb. 15 by a 45-0 vote. The House then struck most of the measure in March and replaced it with language calling for a local merger study committee whose members would investigate issues associated with the potential consolidation. 

 

A joint House-Senate conference committee filed its own Clay County compromise Monday which gutted the language creating the study commission and replaced it with a direct call for consolidation. That conference committee was comprised of the same House lawmakers who developed the Starkville-Oktibbeha compromise bill. 

 

The conference report calls for the creation of a five-person school board comprised of three West Point Board of Aldermen-appointed seats and two chosen by outlying county electorate. A special election for those two county seats would be called in November 2014, the report states. Members of either former school district would be eligible to sit on the board. 

 

The report also allows the Mississippi Department of Education to grant a two-year waiver to the consolidated system from accountability and assessment requirements. 

 

The county school district is one of the smallest in the state. It spends almost $350,000 on administration costs for fewer than 160 students, Senate Education Committee Chairman and bill author Gray Tollison told the Associated Press in January. 

 

The county school district already 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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