November 15, 2012 11:13:51 AM
The idea of a consolidated school district in Oktibbeha County was discussed at the Starkville School Board meeting on Tuesday, although it's difficult to tell just how receptive school officials in the county and city are to the idea.
Board members tabled a request from District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer for his children to transfer to the Starkville schools from the Oktibbeha County School District. Reportedly, Eddie Myles was the only school board member who brought up the possibility of consolidating SSD and OCSD at the meeting, but on Thursday, Trainer said he sees consolidation as an opportunity that would eventually benefit the entire county.
"What would be good for my children would be to accept the transfers, but I think that what would be good for the county would be to look at the big picture seriously," Trainer said. "Starkville has the best public education offerings this county by far, we know that, so why wouldn't we try to duplicate it?"
Consolidation was not the issue on the table at the school board's meeting, however, and the question as to whether or not SSD would allow county transfers dominated the board's discussions. The OCSD is currently unaccredited and under state control due to its poor performance.
Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Education, said that when a district is placed under state control, students in that district have the right to transfer out at any time.
" That is just part of losing their accreditation parents are allowed to transfer their students if the district they are transferring to can accommodate them," Guilfoyle said.
But the key phrase is "can accommodate," and the meaning of that phrase is left up to each individual school district. So if SSD's school board decides the costs are too high or there is no capacity to allow transfers, then the district has the right to deny any requests.
In order to better examine the situation and avoid setting a poor precedent, the SSD's school board tabled Trainer's transfer request rather than deny it, but Superintendent Lewis Holloway warned that allowing transfers could negatively affect SSD's current situation.
"If we were to take just 100 or 200 students, that would negatively effect resources for our students," Holloway said. "By law the SSD has been carved out, and I think those are the students we need to be most protective of."
He also said that thinks OCSD can be brought up to standards sooner rather than later, and that even though performance might not soar above par as quickly, meeting the 37 state standards is moving in the right direction.
"Yes, of course we feel for Oktibbeha County and wish them the best, but we don't want to diminish the educational opportunities for our students, either," Holloway said. "Every school district has to answer to those standards, Oktibbeha County can be brought up to those ... the accreditation thing I think they can take care of in a matter of months."
Other requests for transfers have come in from county parents, according to Holloway, but the majority of them have been due to changing address, or what Holloway said is usually just moving in with a relative in SSD limits.
If the legal guardian of the student is in the house, then the transfer could be allowed, but Holloway said each one of those requests will be investigated prior to approval.
"You can't change guardianship of a child for the sole purpose of school either," Holloway said. "It has to be a health or medical issue, or something like that. You cant just say I am living with Aunt Suzy and give us Aunt Suzy's address if you don't really live there under guardianship of Aunt Suzy."
Consolidation is "absolutely possible," according to Holloway, but he said that does not necessarily mean it is the right path to pursue. There are a lot of barriers, he said, including racial balance, which if changed either way, would cause the Federal Department of Justice to get involved, complicating matters.
Holloway did say that capacity would be an issue as well, especially in the elementary schools.
"Let's say we bring in those 900 kids, we can bring them into our schools and serve and educate them, and I don't think that would be a huge issue," he said. "But what would be a huge issue is bringing in a number of elementary students where our numbers are already 21 students per class. Classroom space is essential."
But Trainer said if OCSD was abolished, then SSD could absorb the entire district, buildings and employees, and hypothetically, not have to move students from their current schools.
"You can absorb the district's assets and liabilities, therefore all you do is administer education to those students," Trainer said. "What would be a great expenditure, instead of paying a conservator all this money, we could just have given it to Holloway and the SSD for them to come up with some workable solutions because they have skin in the game."
Skin in the game is important, according to Trainer.
"The state department is concerned, but they have no skin in the game," Trainer said. "They want to make this work, but at the end of the day, they go back to Jackson."