October 30, 2013 9:58:41 AM
The Commission on Starkville School District Structure approved its agenda Tuesday for Nov. 7's public hearing, a meeting which will focus on the group's tentative plan to successfully merge Oktibbeha County and SSD students into one unified system in 2015.
In the last few meetings, committee members have found mutual support to preserve the county's two elementary schools -- both house pre-kindergarten to sixth grade -- and send its high school students to Starkville High School, but identifying campuses for middle school children was, at times, a sticking point. Tentatively, commissioners have agreed to send SSD sixth graders to Overstreet School on a short-term basis, which thereby frees up space at Armstrong Middle School for an influx of seventh and eighth grade students. Overstreet's alternative programs would be reassigned to a location not yet specified.
For the Overstreet plan to work, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said $200,000 worth of preparations is required. The school would be ready on day one of consolidation, he said.
Holloway suggested the county assist with Overstreet's expenses since SSD will take in county students at facilities Starkville residents have helped maintain and, through recent bond issuances, prepare for consolidation. No decision was made on how to fund the facility's preparations.
The district's long-term plan calls for the construction of a new, grades 8-9 school for an estimated $14 million. With an aggressive building schedule, Holloway said the campus could open its doors for the 2016-2017 academic year. A new site would also allow the consolidated system to move sixth and seventh graders to AMS.
Funding sources for this plan have not yet been secured, but the committee is expected to ask legislatures to help fund the effort. A backup plan calls for the construction of 16 additional AMS classrooms that would in turn provide space for all seventh and eighth grade students. Holloway said he spoke to an architect this week who quoted the build at about $3.07 million.
The backup plan, however, is not preferred as Holloway said a new campus will provide better educational opportunities for students. The district's "Plan B" will only be initiated if funding sources cannot be obtained.
Committee members are also seeking public feedback on districtwide pre-kindergarten opportunities. The district's tentative plan states it will increase the number of 4-year-old classes. SSD has two such classes, while the county's two elementary schools each have one.
School attendance zones became a slight sticking point for board member Orlando Trainer during the group's teleconference. When commissioners suggested adding language to ensure those zones for elementary schools continue after consolidation occurs in 2015, Trainer objected, saying parents should have the option as to where they send their child to school. His suggestion was the first time any commissioner had broached the subject.
Board members agreed to include the language about zones remaining the same after Rex Buffington, Margie Pulley and Holloway all said they were working with the assumption that the stipulation would remain.
The board is expected to seek input on the subject during the public hearing.
Like August's listening session, the Nov. 7 hearing will be moderated by merger committee member David Shaw. In that meeting, 26 Oktibbeha County residents delivered various concerns about the impending merger while simultaneously agreeing that consolidation provides an unprecedented opportunity to better educational efforts for all children.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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