Consolidation conference committee remains in limbo

March 23, 2013 8:48:25 PM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


State legislators and local public education stakeholders are in a hurry-up-and-wait situation after House and Senate leaders failed to establish a conference committee for an Oktibbeha-Starkville school merger bill. 


State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, previously said such a committee would be formed this past week to iron out the differences between the two state chambers' school consolidation bill. 


Now, Chism said Friday via text message, he expects the six committee member announcements Monday and the "whole thing maybe by Tuesday." 


Legislators sent numerous other bills this session to conference, State Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, said, and House and Senate leaders are figuring out who will sit on which committee, much like how a puzzle is put together. 


"We spent last week getting things to conference so legislators can be preparing," Jackson said. "I'm sure the education chairmen are thinking as much about this bill as I am. Just because the committee hasn't been named doesn't mean it's a low priority for anyone." 


A committee substitute for HB 716, originally filed by State Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, overwhelmingly passed the House in February. The Senate Education Committee then passed a strike-all amendment, which was again amended by the full Senate and passed March 12. 


The Senate's version calls for the creation of a study committee charged with exploring how to properly merge Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville School District with city school leaders at the helm of the new district.  


Both versions still point to a 2015 consolidation. 


The House declined to concur with the Senate's version on March 18 and then invited conference. Besides developing a mutually agreeable bill, a conference committee is needed because of reverse-repeal language Senate Education Committee members placed in the measure with its original strike-all substitute. 


Both chambers' education committee chairmen -- State Rep. John L. Moore, R-Brandon, and State Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, -- are expected to serve on the conference committee. 


Chism said last week the House is likely to nominate Barker and should seat an additional House Education Committee member. Chism, who serves on the subcommittee, said he could be that third member. 


Jackson said he expects a second Senate Education Committee member to sit on their side of the conference committee. If asked by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Jackson said he would gladly serve on the committee to provide a local senator's voice. 


Both Jackson and Chism represent a portion of Oktibbeha County.

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