Committee wants input on merger questions

July 17, 2013 9:42:24 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


Local representatives say public input is needed before they broach one of the biggest questions surrounding school consolidation: Should the state merge one or a combination of Oktibbeha County's four campuses with a neighboring county's public education system? 


The members of the Commission on Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Structure tentatively scheduled a time for such a hearing - 6 p.m., Aug. 22 at the Greensboro Center - which will follow the group's next monthly meeting that same day. 


Committee members mentioned Choctaw, Clay, Lowndes and Webster counties in passing Tuesday when discussing the future of Oktibbeha's four county schools. Starkville School District's territory covers a modified square shape in the middle of the county, while Oktibbeha County School District's campuses are located in the county's four corners. 


The Starkville-Oktibbeha merger legislation, HB 716, created the consolidation committee and charged it with delivering a March 2014 report on how to successfully join the two school systems the following year. As the bill worked its way through the Senate, state legislators tacked on an amendment allowing the committee to also look at the viability of joining outlying county schools with their closest counterparts in an adjoining county. 


The committee can only submit its recommendations for consolidation since HB 716's language calls for unifying the school systems in July 2015. 


If legislators and Mississippi Department of Education officials agree to move one or multiple OCSD schools to a neighboring school district, transportation and funding - average daily attendance and ad valorem monies - issues would then need to be resolved. 


The two school systems within Oktibbeha County educate about 5,250 students combined. Fewer than 1,000 schoolchildren attend OCSD. 


The tentatively scheduled hearing marks the first public gathering called by the consolidation committee. City school board members discussed consolidation vigorously as HB 716 went through the legislative process. County leaders, including District 2 Supervisor and consolidation committee member Orlando Trainer, also held public listening sessions to record parents' concerns over OCSD's future while the bill progressed through both chambers. 


Residents can email any questions or comments on the merger process to [email protected] MDE officials said they will gather submissions and provide answers for a planned Frequently Asked Questions guide. 


Consolidation committee member Rex Buffington also suggested Tuesday that the group meet more frequently so it can get about the business of fully exploring all merger issues. Yesterday marked the commission's third meeting, and the group has met only once per month since its formation. Buffington said two meetings per month could provide time for robust discussions. 


Buffington previously made a recommendation which could push up the group's deadline. In June, he suggested the group set an internal due date for its report so lawmakers could review it before the end of the 2014 legislative session. 


No action was taken on the matter Tuesday, but MDE officials did suggest January as a potential internal deadline. 


Hours after the consolidation meeting, Starkville school board members met behind closed doors and discussed the recent United States Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act and its implications on the current Department of Justice-mandated desegregation order for both school systems. 


No action emerged from special-call meeting's executive session. 


The district will rotate four principals to similar jobs within the district for the upcoming school year, SSD officials announced after its regular session concluded. The principals will assume their new duties as soon as possible. 


Armstrong Middle School Principal Elizabeth Mosley and Henderson Middle School Principal Tim Bourne will trade jobs, while Overstreet School Principal Julie Kennedy and Sudduth Elementary Principal Lisa Thompson will also exchange leadership positions. 


Kennedy began her 30-year educational career with SSD in 1976. She served as Sudduth's principal from 1998-2010. 


Bourne was named Henderson's principal in 2007. He began his career as an AMS science teacher before becoming the school's assistant principal in 2004. 


Kennedy served as AMS' assistant principal before she was named Overstreet's chief administrator in 2009. 


Thompson, who has 20 years of classroom experience, taught at AMS and Sudduth. She also served as the school's assistant principal before taking over in 2010. 


District officials said the changes would help maximize its administrative strengths. 


"Our administrators work very hard, and each of them possess a unique set of strengths that make them the ideal choice for these positions," said SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway in a release. "We are confident that these administrative changes will only lead to greater success in our schools."

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