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Legislature approves negotiated school merger bill


Carl Smith



Both chambers of the Miss. Legislature Tuesday passed a conference report for SB 2818, a bill that ensures technical amendments sought by the Commission on Starkville School District Structure for 2015's state-mandated unification. 


House lawmakers voted 116-1 in favor of the bill. A vote tally from the Senate's action was unavailable at press time. 


Only state Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, voted against the measure. Seventy-one House votes were needed to push the bill forward to Gov. Phil Bryant. It is unknown when the governor will take up the matter. 


SB 2818 was one of two Starkville-Oktibbeha County school merger bills flowing through the Legislature this term. Lawmakers allowed the other bill, HB 833, to die in conference as two bills were not needed. 


The approved conference report made few changes to recommendations outlined by the local merger study group. It calls for an expiring 2016 school board seat to remain in office until Jan. 1, 2017, thereby preventing a protracted vacancy from occurring before a November 2016 election is held; tasks the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors with providing administrative offices, furnishings and utilities for the consolidated school district's superintendent; and codifies a partnership between the district and Mississippi State University, which will create a model rural education and pre-kindergarten system. 


The new bill also designated the new system as the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, a move previously sought by county constituents. 


Local funding sources that will help facilitate the logistical merger of Starkville School District and Oktibbeha County School District were preserved in the bill. The measure calls for OCSD Conservator Margie Pulley to issue notes for campus repairs in both districts shortly after it is signed into law. 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 plans to construct a grades 6-7 campus. 


Lawmakers also tasked 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. 


Local public school supporters took to social media Tuesday and applauded lawmakers for listening to and enacting the commission's recommendations. 


"Congrats to all who made consolidation in (Oktibbeha County) happen! Great legislative outcome to adopt this local commission plan," tweeted Brother Rogers. "Great community leadership to accomplish consolidation. We are stronger together, esp w/MSU. Can't wait to see positive results in future."


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



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