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Second committee forms for merger legislation


Carl Smith



State legislators formed a second conference committee last week to negotiate minor and technical amendments to Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger provisions currently moving through the state capitol. 


Reps. John L. Moore, R-Brandon, Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, and Jeffrey Guice, R-Ocean Springs, will join Sens. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, and Russell Jolly, D-Houston, to finalize SB 2818, the Senate's tweak to 2013's school merger law. 


The same lawmakers, minus Guice, comprise the conference committee expected to meet and negotiate a final version of HB 833, a similar bill filed this term in the House. State Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, takes his spot on that committee. 


As with HB 833's conference committee, no Oktibbeha County representation is present in the Senate bill's counterpart. 


While both bills enact minor requests made by the Commission on Starkville School District Structure, conference committees are needed since both chambers gutted HB 833 and SB 2818 as they moved through the legislative process this term.  


Barker 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.  


State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said the committees should begin negotiations as early as today or Tuesday. 


Chism, the lone House Education Committee member who represents a portion of Oktibbeha County, was passed over for HB 833's committee, he said, because the bill went to both the education subgroup and the House Ways and Means Committee. Seats were saved for the two boards' chairmen -- Moore and Smith -- while Barker, the bill's author, was chosen by Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.  


Chism also said last week discussions are off the table for Starkville School District Lewis Holloway's early appointment as Oktibbeha County's conservator a year ahead of his takeover of the consolidated school system. 


State law calls for SSD's superintendent to guide the system once both districts are joined July 1, 2015. 


Both HB 833 and SB 2818 called for Holloway to take over this July until committee substitutes and amendments gutted the charge. 


Local lawmakers, including Chism and Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, backed Holloway's early appointment and called the move a smart move that would save the state money since OCSD Conservator Margie Pulley's services would no longer be needed. 


Officials close to the consolidation process previously acknowledged dissent created locally and within the Mississippi Department of Education by the original bills as they both gave Holloway full decision-making powers over OCSD's employees' contracts for the 2014-2015 academic year.


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch



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