December 11, 2013 9:53:41 AM
The Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure could ask state representatives to add legislative language to HB 716, the Oktibbeha County school merger bill, which would allow for a reverse bond referendum to fund physical upgrades.
Improvements to numerous Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville School District campuses are needed before the two systems merge in 2015. As it stands, state law prevents one system from spending money on the other's needs, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said Tuesday.
If codified, the county school system could pursue up to $10 million worth of bonds that would be serviced across 30 years. A technical amendment is needed, he said, since OCSD does not have the legal authority to attempt such a move. OCSD could also utilize a 3-mill note spread across 20 years -- a move already available to the county -- as a smaller financial maneuver.
About $5 million is needed to bring the county's two elementary schools up to par for 2015's state-mandated consolidation, according to a November architect's report. East Oktibbeha County Elementary School and West Oktibbeha County Elementary School require about $2 million in immediate improvements before the merger occurs, and an additional $2.8 million worth of renovations would be required for long-term rehabilitation projects.
A reverse referendum would allow the county school district to issue a bond intent notice for repairs.
Such a notice would require publication in local newspapers. Residents can then force the item to the polls with a signature campaign. A 60-percent vote is required to pass such referendums.
If little opposition emerges, the district would then be able to move forward without a countywide vote.
Starkville and Oktibbeha County's governing boards have attempted similar measures: a bond intent notice for potential economic development monies was passed by both bodies with no substantial public challenge, and Orlando Trainer, county board president and consolidation committee member, has attempted numerous intent notices for road bonds at the supervisors' table.
"If we add that language to 716, it'll provide the vehicle to do the referendum," Holloway said after SSD's school board meeting Tuesday.
Consolidation committee members also began tinkering with the logistical plan to join the two school systems. Previously, the commission agreed to keep both EOCES and WOCES open as elementary schools for county students. Now, members will consider adjusting West Oktibbeha County High School into an elementary school. The campus' physical condition is favorable, meaning fewer immediate repairs and long-term projects could be required before consolidation.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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