Our view: Oktibbeha County will be litmus test for consolidation

February 12, 2013 11:14:16 AM



Tonight, President Obama gives his state of the union address, but in Oktibbeha County the focus will be on the state of the schools. 


The Starkville School District and the Oktibbeha County School District will hold separate meetings tonight at 6 to discuss the implications of a bill currently being debated by the Legislature that would consolidate the county and city school districts. 


Although SSD officials have met with legislators to gain amendments to the bill that would maintain its current leadership in the event that the bill becomes law, there has been little input from the OCSD, mainly because the district doesn't have a board. Since the fall, the county schools have been under state control. Instead of a board, the schools are being run by a state-appointed conservator.  


Tonight, then, is an opportunity for parents, teachers and residents from the county to ask questions and state their opinion on whether consolidation is a good idea.  


In this year's legislative session, much of the focus has been on improving Mississippi's educational system. An expanded charter school bill and a bill to fund pre-K education are also being debated. 


The consolidation bill is not a state-wide initiative. Rather, it applies specifically to Oktibbeha County and Clay County. 


Clay County's consolidation seems obvious. That district has just one elementary school, so consolidation seems a matter of common sense. 


The situation in Oktibbeha is more complicated.  


The Starkville School District is thriving. The OCSD's struggles are all too apparent. 


Should the legislation pass, the question emerges: What are the consequences. 


Will the county schools rise to the level currently enjoyed by the city schools? Or will the county schools somehow create a drag on the momentum currently enjoyed by the city schools? Will the county schools be relegated to step-child status by the new board that governs both? Or will the consolidation provide the county a new infusion of optimism? Will resources, scarce already, be further diluted in both county and city schools? Or will the consolidation produce an efficiency that will maximize resources across the board by greatly reducing redundancies and cutting administrative costs? 


There are no sure answers, of course. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. 


We think the consolidation will ultimately prove beneficial to all schools in the county, primarily because it will be under the guidance of Lewis Holloway. Although he is in his first year as SSD superintendent, Holloway has already established himself as an exceptional leader. And leadership is always the critical factor in these kinds of circumstances. 


Assuming the legislation passes, Oktibbeha County will likely become a litmus test for future consolidation. The success or failure of the consolidation may provide a blueprint for future consolidation. 


As in the case of Clay and Oktibbeha counties, future consolidation efforts should be considered on a case-by-case basis. In some areas, it will make sense. In other areas, there are factors that strongly suggest consolidation will exacerbate more problems than it solves. 


But in Oktibbeha County's case, we strongly suspect consolidation will be a benefit to all students, city and county alike.