November 7, 2013 11:00:53 AM
A second public hearing on school merger issues will be held 7 p.m. today at the Greensboro Center and will focus on the Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure's tentative plan to logistically combine the city and county systems.
The seven-person merger committee has for numerous meetings debated and crafted tentative short-and long-term plans that will create a unified school district, but one key piece remains unidentified:
How will Mississippi State University's expected partnership play a role in merger logistics?
David Shaw, MSU's vice president for research and economic development, told fellow consolidation committee members that the university is interested in a partnership with the Starkville Consolidated School District that would allow its students to take teaching theorem out of the classroom and apply it in real-world settings.
University officials have previously discussed the idea of utilizing a demonstration school or program, Shaw said in September, but state-mandated consolidation could push the issue to fruition. A new facility would be needed for such a program, one which the university could flex its fundraising capabilities for budgetary needs.
Shaw previously said the university has an interest in working with middle school-aged children, but no formal plans have been announced by the consolidation committee.
After today's hearing, the board is scheduled to continue crafting its logistics plan with public input in mind during a day-long work session Friday. It is unknown if Shaw or MSU will unveil its potential plans then, but consolidation committee members have said numerous times they would like to have a rough legislative proposal ready in December. HB 716, the Starkville-Oktibbeha school merger bill, requires the group present recommendations to state representatives by March.
The two school systems will merge in 2015.
To do so, the district proposes a short-term plan that will preserve the county's two elementary schools -- both currently serve pre-kindergarten to sixth grade -- and send its high school students to Starkville High School. Identifying where it would send middle school children created debate-filled sessions, but commissioners have tentatively agreed to send SSD sixth graders to Overstreet School, thereby freeing up space at Armstrong Middle School for an influx of seventh and eighth graders. Overstreet's alternative programs would be reassigned to an unspecified location.
SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway previously said $200,000 in reconfigurations is required to ready the campus for its new role.
The district's long-term plan calls for construction of a grades 8-9 school for about $14 million. An aggressive build schedule, Holloway said, would allow the new facility to be open for the 2016-2017 school year. The new construction would allow the district to move sixth and seventh graders to AMS.
A backup plan was also established that would construct 16 additional AMS classrooms that in turn provide space for all seventh and eighth grade students. That plan could cost almost $3 million, but would significantly degrade teacher-student ratios per classroom.
Elementary school attendance zones are also expected to remain the same after consolidation occurs.
Committee members are also seeking public input on districtwide pre-kindergarten services during today's hearing. The district's plan states it will increase the number of 4-year-old classes. SSD currently operates two such classes, while the county's two elementary schools each have one.
Funding sources for pre-consolidation renovations and construction initiatives have yet to be determined.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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