Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway discusses a series of legislative recommendations that the Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure is expected to present to state lawmakers in early 2014. HB 716, the Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger bill, tasked the committee to deliver recommendations to the Legislature on March 1.
Photo by: Carl Smith/Dispatch Staff
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December 24, 2013 10:26:03 AM
The Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure unveiled a working copy of consolidation recommendations that seeks up to $20 million for construction and operation of a grades 6-7 campus on Mississippi State University land and a pre-kindergarten program created as a demonstration project.
Commissioners worked through six pages of recommendations and made verbal edits Monday during the group's final 2013 meeting. A final report is not expected to be complete until early 2014.
HB 716, the Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger bill, tasked the group to deliver consolidation recommendations to the Legislature by March 1. The Miss. House and Senate both convene their respective sessions on Jan. 7.
As written, the working copy seeks up to $9 million in state funds for construction of a needed grades 6-7 campus. The proposed construction on MSU's campus would then allow Armstrong Middle School to house eighth and ninth graders, while Starkville High School tends to countywide sophomores, juniors and seniors.
The commission also asks for up to $10 million for construction of a joint MSU-SCSD Pre-k program for all 4-year-old children in Oktibbeha County and $1 million annually for five years for its operation. The program would be created as a demonstration project, the draft states, "with a goal of expanding pre-kindergarten in other counties throughout the state, ultimately achieving universal availability of quality pre-kindergarten education for all 4-year-olds in Mississippi by 2025."
The merged system, as a whole, would be labeled as a demonstration school district that would "establish best practices in education that will be shared with other districts throughout the state."
Commission member David Shaw, who also serves as MSU's vice president for research and economic development, said the working location for the grades 6-7 campus shifted from the school's intramural fields to where Aiken Village now stands. A location has not yet been identified for the Pre-k investment, but the program is expected to dovetail the university's early childhood program with OCSD and SSD efforts.
An MSU taskforce is working to finalize the projects' cost, Shaw said.
The university previously secured $1 million toward a partnership school when a Texas-based couple donated $12.3 million to MSU's Infinite Impact fundraising campaign earlier this month. Previous estimates put the grades 6-7 school's price tag at about $17 million.
The university is expected to continue fundraising efforts to secure the remainder if the legislature pledges additional monies.
"What we want to try to do between now and when the legislature convenes is take a closer look at construction costs and (other local fundraising mechanisms). Several of our folks went over to (the University of) Alabama to look at the facilities they have and nail down a reasonable cost estimate," Shaw said. "We'll work over that now so we know what we need to do and what's going to be needed from us.
"We are really 98 percent of the way there after today," he said, referring to Monday's work session. "I think we're all ready to put a bow on this. Everyone is anxious to see the written version MDE (Mississippi Department of Education) is going to be working on."
Report: Local funding requests hold
The group's working proposal also seeks legislative authority for two local fundraising mechanism that could help pay for renovations needed to bring SSD and OCSD facilities up to snuff before consolidation occurs in 2015.
First, commissioners recommend that restrictions preventing OCSD from funding SSD improvements be lifted before consolidation occurs. State law currently prevents school systems from spending money outside of their own district. Second, the draft also puts into writing a move previously suggested by the consolidation committee: that the conservator issue a 15-year, 3-mill levy to fund repairs to county campuses.
That levy, in conjunction with a reverse bond referendum, could provide at least $14 million for construction, repairs and upgrades, if approved by the legislature. The draft also seeks permission for the reverse referendum.
The debt limit cap of countywide valuation could be increased to 20 percent - it now stands at 15 percent - with the inclusion of the reverse referendum option, the report states.
SSD is at its bonding capacity since its school board began tending to improvement needs earlier this year, while OCSD's electorate has yet to pass a significant school bond.
The commission previously agreed to preserve both county elementary schools, located on the eastern and western portions of Oktibbeha County, respectively, for Pre-k thru sixth grade, but committee members reached a consensus to retrofit West Oktibbeha County High School, located in Maben, for elementary use.
Retrofitting that campus, which is Oktibbeha County School District's most recently constructed facility, could save the district approximately $130,000 in renovation costs, architect Gary Shafer told the committee. Short- and long-term renovations for both elementary schools would cost about $5.6 million, he said.
Funding is also needed to prepare SHS and Overstreet School for consolidation.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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