SSD board encouraged by changes in consolidation bill

March 8, 2013 11:19:58 AM



The Starkville School District Board of Trustees appointed its officers and discussed changes to the amended school consolidation bill at their Thursday night meeting.  


HB 716 left the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday looking much different than when it came in. Within the new language is an order to form a local commission tasked with figuring out how to make the merger as seamless as possible and what the effects, negative and positive, might be on county education.  


The amended bill says the Commission on Starkville-Oktibbeha County School District Structure would be comprised of State Superintendent of Education Lynn House or a Mississippi Department of Education designee; two Starkville School District representatives appointed by its school board; two residents of the Oktibbeha County School District; Oktibbeha County School District Conservator Margie Pulley; and a Mississippi State University representative appointed by President Mark Keenum.  


Thursday night, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway pointed to the timeline given to the commission as his greatest concern. If passed, the Department of Justice must approve the bill before the commission can form. A full report would be due to the Mississippi Department of Education, Gov. Phil Bryant and state legislature on or before Jan. 1, 2014.  


"You may only have a month or two to study the schools and come up with a plan," Holloway said. "I wish the January 1st was a July 1st date, so we can be more proactive in understanding the issues." 


From the beginning, the overall focus of this bill has been on finding a way to benefit and redirect the struggling Oktibbeha County School District. Holloway said Starkville students have been an afterthought. He added that the best strategy at this point might be to turn the issue around and ask legislators how this merger, which might include taking away and/or redistributing student resources, would be beneficial to the educational environment in Starkville. 


SSD board president Keith Coble affirmed Holloway's sentiments but warned that if this bill dies, the Starkville School District could end up with a worse deal in the future. All of the board members agreed that HB 716 looks much better for Starkville now than it did when it was first proposed. 


"Whatever the fate is, if it dies, we as a community better not stop the discussion," Coble said. "Because if that happens, my prediction is that next year, they are going to come back and ram something down our throats and not care what we think." 


The current bill must pass a full vote on the Senate floor, which should come by late next week.  


In other business, there were no challengers in the race for the Board of Trustees' only elected position, and Coble was sworn in for his second, four-year term in the seat. The board also voted to appoint Eddie Myles as board president, Lee Brand as vice president, Eric Heiselt as secretary and Mary Turner as assistant secretary. All of the positions were agreed on unanimously.  


Also Thursday night, trustees approved advertising for bids on an expanded cafeteria at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School. Last year, local architectural firm Thomas Shelton Jones & Associates quoted the renovation at $122,720.