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Consolidation committee taking shape

 

Carl Smith

 

The Starkville School District Board of Trustees named Superintendent Lewis Holloway, school board member Lee Brand and Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership Director Rex Buffington as its three-person delegation to a soon-to-be-formed Starkville-Oktibbeha consolidation study commission. 

 

School officials also said Mississippi Department of Education Interim Deputy State Superintendent Larry Drawdy will serve as Interim State Superintendent Lynn House's appointee and chair the commission, while David Shaw, Mississippi State University vice president for research and economic development, will serve as the school's representative. 

 

Oktibbeha County School District Conservator Margie Pulley and a yet-to-be-named county representative will round out the commission. SSD officials and Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said they are unaware if MDE has chosen a representative for the outlying county area. 

 

Merger commission members are scheduled to meet with state school officials in Jackson today at 3 p.m., SSD officials confirmed. 

 

"I think the challenge we need to face together is to find a way to bring great success for all children currently in (SSD) and those who will be in the district when consolidation occurs. It's going to take a lot of hard work and creative thinking to find the best solutions," said Buffington, the father of a current SHS student and a Starkville public school system graduate. "I think for us being able to continue to grow, this is a problem that has to be solved. We have to have a very strong district that people will want to bring their children to. 

 

"I do believe the advantage we have is that there are a lot of people on the state level that want (consolidation) to succeed; I really think they're looking for Starkville to be a model for (future consolidation efforts in the state)," he added. "If we can create success here that we're all committed to, then it will be a great thing for the entire state." 

 

Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law the final version of the Starkville-Oktibbeha school merger bill on April 25. The measure calls for the creation of a seven-person consolidation study committee tasked with exploring potential merger issues and logistics. The group will present its findings to the governor, MDE and legislators on or before March 1, 2014. Those results are not binding to the merger process as the bill still calls for consolidation by 2015. 

 

The law goes into effect July 1. 

 

SSD officials lobbied lawmakers to include more local input in the consolidation bill as the Legislature debated the issue this winter. As originally filed, H.B. 716 detailed straightforward merger instructions without seeking local opinions. State Senators struck the House's language and replaced it with instructions to create a local, merger-guiding committee. 

 

The bill's evolution helped shine a light on public schooling's failures, successes and overall need in Oktibbeha County, Buffington said. 

 

"It won't just be the commission working on this; it'll be the whole community working with the commission to study consolidation," he said. "We have a lot of questions right now, but we are all committed and do not want to do anything in a haphazard way. We really want to make sure every question and all challenges are addressed thoroughly so we can be successful as a community."

 

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

 

 

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