April 1, 2014 11:50:21 AM
A joint House-Senate conference committee filed a newly negotiated Starkville-Oktibbeha school merger bill Monday with numerous technical amendments that preserve requests previously made by the Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure.
The six-person team assigned to SB 2818's conference committee pushed forward the bill penned by Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, while a similar bill, HB 833, died in conference Monday.
As settled upon, SB 2818's conference report makes one significant, albeit superficial change: lawmakers renamed the upcoming unified system to the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District. County constituents previously lamented the fact that an Oktibbeha reference was not previously in the original name
The report also calls for an expiring 2016 school board seat to remain in office until Jan. 1, 2017, a move that prevents a vacancy from occurring before a November 2016 election is held. The new bill also tasks the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors with providing administrative offices, furnishings and utilities for the consolidated school district's superintendent and authorizes a partnership between the district and Mississippi State University to create a model rural education and pre-kindergarten partnership.
Local funding requests to facilitate the logistical merger of Starkville School District and Oktibbeha County School District are also preserved, as the bill calls for OCSD Conservator Margie Pulley to issue notes for campus repairs in both districts shortly after its passage. Additional funding can also be secured through reverse referendum mechanisms, and those monies could help cover a portion of the costs associated with MSU's partnership and its plans to construct a grades 6-7 campus.
As originally filed, both HB 833 and SB 2818 called for SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway's early appointment as OCSD's conservator this July. Supporters of the move said his early appointment would help save the state money - Pulley's services would no longer be needed - and help facilitate a smooth transition into 2015's state-mandated consolidation; however, dissent was created since the charge would have allowed Holloway control over OCSD employees' contracts for the 2014-2015 academic year.
Those calls were gutted from the bills earlier this session, and negotiations on the matter did not surface in Monday's filing. Holloway will still take over as the consolidated school system's leader on July 1, 2015.
Addressing the transitional 2014-2015 academic year, lawmakers inserted a line into the conference report that tasks Pulley to "fully cooperate and accommodate any and all requests from Starkville School District" on a range of topics from school staffing to facility repairs and renovations.
Both Holloway and Pulley will have full authority to non-renew contracts for the 2015-2016 school year, the bill states.
The new bill will now travel to the House and Senate for votes. State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said each chamber is expected to address the matter this week before the end of the legislative term.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
3. Photo: So long, Sno Biz COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. West Lowndes High students donate for holidays COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY