Supes pledge support for school consolidation

February 19, 2013 9:51:59 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors agreed to draft a resolution supporting potential consolidation measures once they are agreed upon by the Mississippi Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant. 


District 2 Supervisor and Board President Orlando Trainer said the resolution will allow him to travel to Jackson as the Senate begins deliberating over a House Education Committee substitute for HB 716, which calls for the creation of the Starkville Countywide Municipal Separate School District in 2015. 


Last week, the House passed the consolidation bill with overwhelming support. 


The county's motion passed 4-1 after a long debate between Trainer and District 2 Supervisor Marvel Howard on semantics behind supporting legislation that is not yet finalized. Howard cast the lone "nay" vote. 


Howard, the former board president, said supporting legislation before it is agreed upon by both houses without assuring the airing of county residents' grievances toward the whole process would not be in the best interest of Oktibbeha residents or the board. Like Trainer and District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams, Howard has said he is in favor of consolidation as long as it is accomplished and funded correctly by the state. 


Trainer argued the need for a resolution now by saying legislators would have a document showing the community's support for a school merger.  


"The only thing that scares me is that this thing could be killed. I definitely wanted to make statement that (school consolidation) is something that is concerning a majority of the members of this board and county," Trainer said after the meeting. "My understanding is if we don't get something passed this year, we will have missed a great opportunity. You and I won't suffer - it's the children who will continue to miss out and not experience the benefits of consolidation." 


District 4 Supervisor Daniel Jackson offered a compromise when he said the county would have to support any measure that is signed into law by Bryant. Jackson has not publicly taken a position on school consolidation. 


"Make no mistake, this board ... has no control over (consolidation)," Jackson said. "This is a fight to be had in Jackson, no matter how it comes down." 


In other business, supervisors tabled a deal to lease the county-owned portion of Oktibbeha County Lake to Starkville Wet N Wild LLC after board members expressed concerns over limited public access. 


In November, the Oktibbeha County School District entered into a 25-year lease with two investors - John Barnett and former Mississippi State University basketball coach Rick Stansbury - for the 312 acres that fall within 16th Section. The tabled county lease, which lists Debbie K. Barnett as Starkville Wet N Wild's manager, would have given the group control of approximately 337.51 acres adjoining the lake through November 2060 for $2,500 annually. 


Under the terms of the lease, both the county and investors would have shared joint control over the spillway operation to monitor water level and also shared access of a security gate to be located on Spillway Road. 


Starkville Wet N Wild would have also been entitled to exclusive control of all lake access. 


Supervisors tabled the lease after discussions turned to public access to the lake. No representatives from Starkville Wet N Wild approached the board to clear the matter. 


"From what I'm hearing, there will not be access for fishing. That was the exact thing I was afraid of," Howard said. "Until we sign this lease, the public has access to go and fish on our portion." 


When asked what specific plans the group has for public access at the lake after the meeting, Howard said, "That's just it - I really haven't heard anything specific, just bits and pieces."

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