February 18, 2013 10:00:51 AM
Carl Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
School consolidation discussions will continue today at the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors' recess meeting at the county courthouse.
A new round of talks, placed on the agenda by District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer, is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. but could be pushed up or back due to the nature of how quickly the board attends to other business. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.
The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a House Education Committee substitute for House Bill 716 - the original Oktibbeha-Starkville school consolidation measure - with a 107-6 vote Wednesday.
That bill now heads to the state Senate, where Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, says senators should support the measure. Ellis last week said state House and Senate members have a working agreement to support consolidation bills in Oktibbeha and Clay counties as they move through the legislative process.
An amended version of the Clay County consolidation bill - Senate Bill 2637 - also passed the Senate and will be sent to the House.
HB 716's amendments would create the Starkville Countywide Municipal Separate School District on July 1, 2015.
As the legislative process continues, Trainer said he would like to take a lead role in generating support for the bill and examining positives that would come from consolidation. While supervisors have offered their opinions on a merger, Starkville School District administrators have not taken a formal stance on the matter. Oktibbeha County School District Conservator Margie Pulley has yet to approach the topic in an open meeting.
"Based upon what is currently at the table, I think we are headed in the right direction. I think the room needs to focus on the positives," Trainer said Sunday. "I see all the benefits behind it, and those outweigh the negatives. That's the conversation we need to start having in our community."
Both Ellis and state Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, say consolidation is needed to provide a strong educational system for all county schoolchildren. Ellis says a consolidated school district would not only increase educational opportunities for all but would also greatly impact the local workforce and help stimulate future economic development.
If consolidation occurs, SSD officials say infrastructure, technology and assessment gaps between the two districts must be dealt with as soon as possible.
"I think it's impossible to legislate schools and school districts from Jackson," SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said last week. "To get better, the local community has to be involved. That's how you improve a school district - the local residents demand it."
Supervisors previously held an open forum on school consolidation Tuesday at the Oktibbeha County Courthouse Annex. That meeting, moderated by District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard, allowed county residents to voice their concerns over the perceived lack of representation the county received in the development of a school merger bill.
Following Tuesday's meeting, District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams drafted a resolution outlining residents' three main concerns: a lack of representation as a merger bill was created, the need for more local county representation on a consolidated school board and the need to establish a grace period for graduation requirements.
Those supervisors who attended Tuesday's meeting - Howard, Trainer and Williams - all say they are in favor of school consolidation as long as it's done and funded properly.
Supervisors said they would discuss the resolution with Ellis as soon as possible, but the bill passed the House floor at approximately 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
At the end of Tuesday's meeting, the three supervisors and approximately 20 meeting attendees visited the Greensboro Center for the remainder of the SSD Board of Trustees meeting.
City school board member Lee Brand agreed with county residents' concerns over a lack of representation and suggested all stakeholders contact their representatives about the matter.
In other business, supervisors are expected to address a personnel request from Coroner Michael Hunt for an additional deputy coroner.
Hunt says a deputy coroner is needed now that the workload averages 25 cases per month. His current deputy coroner, Leslie Strickland, received a promotion with OCH Regional Medical Center, Hunt said, which will decrease her capacity with the county.
Other similar-sized counties usually employ five assistant coroners, Hunt said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch