February 13, 2014 10:04:18 AM
State House members overwhelmingly passed a West Point-Clay County school consolidation bill Tuesday that makes slight changes to previously approved Mississippi Code.
The House will now send the bill to the Senate after lawmakers passed the legislation 110-6, with six additional lawmakers absent, voting present or not voting. Each Golden Triangle representative supported the measure, while five of the six opposing votes came from Democrats outside of the area.
Last year, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a conference report stemming from SB 2637, a bill that called for the creation of the West Point Consolidated School District in 2015 by merging the county school system with West Point city schools. A deal is already in place that sends county junior and high school students to the West Point School District.
Lawmakers are attempting to make small changes to state code with HB 436, a bill filed by Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus. Chism's House district includes portions of Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties.
As with language evolving in Oktibbeha County's own school merger bills, Chism's original legislation gives the incoming West Point Consolidated School District Board of Trustees direct control of district employees' contracts for the 2015-2016 school year and each year thereafter.
The incoming, five-person school board will be comprised of three members appointed by the West Point Board of Aldermen and two members elected by county residents who live outside of the city's municipal boundary. The bill calls for elections in November.
"All subsequent members of the board elected from the territory outside of the West Point corporate limits shall be elected for a term of four years by the county board of supervisors in the manner prescribed in Section 37-7-203(1)," a revision included in the original filing states.
A two-year waiver from accountability and state assessment testing is included in the bill.
The county school district is one of the smallest in the state. It spends about $350,000 on administration costs for fewer than 200 students, Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, told the Associated Press last year.
Two Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger bills are still pending in the House and Senate. HB 833 received its third reading Wednesday according to the Miss. House website. Chism previously bemoaned the speed at which representatives are tackling pending legislation, alluding to today's 8 p.m. deadline for bills to move forward.
HB 833 is listed as the eighth item on the House's calendar today, while its Senate counterpart, SB 2818 is listed at No. 97 on that chamber's schedule.
Substitutes for both bills stripped out language appointing Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway as Oktibbeha County School District's conservator in July, a year before he takes over as Starkville Consolidated School District's leader.
Language preserving prior Starkville-Oktibbeha school merger committee requests was preserved in both substitutes; however, the Senate version maintains lines allowing reverse referendum mechanisms for bond issuances that the House version drops.
A conference committee is expected to form and hammer out the differences if both chambers pass their respective substitutes as written.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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