March 29, 2014 10:33:17 PM
The Miss. House and Senate each named their three-person delegation Thursday for an upcoming Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger bill conference committee, but the list does not include any local representatives.
State Reps. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, John L. Moore, R-Brandon, and Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, will represent the House, while the Senate assigned Sens. Russell Jolly, D-Houston, Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, and Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, to the group that will negotiate a final version of proposals set out by HB 833 and SB 2818 this term.
Barker originally authored the House measure and last year's original Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger bill, HB 716, while Tollison penned the Senate's submission this term. Moore and Tollison serve as chairmen for their respective chambers' education committees. Additionally, Barker, Jolly and Wiggins also serve as education committee members.
Smith was chosen over state Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, who serves on the House Education Committee, because Barker's original bill was also sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, Chism said.
Chism is the lone House Education Committee member who represents Oktibbeha County. No Senate Education Committee members represent the area.
Smith's appointment, Chism said, could allow for further discussions on possible state-level funding sources for future construction within the consolidated school system. Mississippi State University officials are planning to construct a grades 6-7 campus and a pre-kindergarten facility as part of a joint university-consolidated school district partnership, but funding sources for the projects have yet to be identified.
He said the conference committee should begin negotiations on a mutually agreeable bill Monday or Tuesday, but calls to Barker, Smith and Tollison for confirmation went unreturned Thursday.
No discussions expected on Holloway's early appointment
As originally filed, HB 833 and SB 2818 called for Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway's appointment as Oktibbeha County School District's conservator on July 1, a move that would have pushed up Holloway's leadership of the combined school system by a year.
Numerous area lawmakers backed such a push and said it could come back for discussions during the conference committee, but now Chism says the deal appears off the table.
Pre-conference committee meetings between Barker and area representatives, Chism says, indicate the conference committee may reach a solution by giving OCSD Margie Pulley "more teeth to do what is needed for the school system" before merging with SSD.
"I think the authority (Pulley might be vested with) could trump moving (Holloway's appointment) up. Holloway is in constant talks with (OCSD and representatives), and I think he is on board with this," Chism said.
Before HB 833 and SB 2818 were gutted by committee substitutes and amendments this legislative term, Holloway was to be given full decision-making powers involving OCSD employees' contracts. Officials close to the consolidation process previously acknowledged dissent created locally and within the Mississippi Department of Education by the original bills.
Neither the Commission on Starkville School District Structure, nor the SSD, asked the Legislature or MDE to move Holloway's appointment up a year. That request was made by members of Parents for Public Schools Starkville when they began independently lobbying lawmakers before the merger committee's recommendations were presented in Jackson.
"Any personnel moves might be a better (received locally) if the conservator is the one to do it," Chism said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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