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Bills proposed to consolidate local districts
by Amanda Sexton Ferguson, Editor and Publisher
Jan 30, 2014 | 218 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSON - Two bills in the Mississippi Legislature propose consolidation of area schools.

Senate Bill 2620, authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison (R-Oxford), proposes the administrative consolidation of Carroll County School District, Winona Separate School District, and Montgomery County School District.

House Bill 760, authored by House Education Committee member Brad Mayo (R-Oxford), proposes the administrative consolidation of the Winona Separate School District and the Montgomery County School District on July 1, 2015.

According to SB 2620, which is currently being debated in the Senate's Education Committee, proposes an administrative consolidation of the three school districts with a central administrative office to be located in Winona.

"Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the closing of any school or school facility, unless the facility is an unneeded administrative office located within the school district."

The bill proposes the election of five trustees to serve on a board of trustees in a November 14, 2014, special election, and the Mississippi Board of Education will determine boundary lines of the new district and boundary lines for each trustee district.

All real and personal property of each district should be transferred to the newly created Carroll-Montgomery Consolidated School District.

As for the district's leadership, the bill proposes that the district's board of trustees will appoint a superintendent, and there will be a limit of three assistant superintendents in the district.

In addition, the bill states that no superintendent serving in a school district designated as an under-performing school district or under conservatorship shall be eligible for appointment as a superintendent or assistant superintendent. The same rules apply to the board of trustees when seeking a new board seat.

In addition, if the bill passes, the Department of Education will grant a three year waiver of accountability and assessment requirements to the newly-formed district.

House Bill 760, which is also still in the committee phase, proposes to consolidate Winona and Montgomery County Schools into the Winona-Montgomery School District on July 1, 2016, with the board of trustee special election to be held in November 2014.

Details of the proposed consolidation are the same as SB 2620, with the exception of the date of consolidation and special election.

However, HB 760 also includes the consolidation of the Okolona Separate School District with the Chickasaw County School District; the Hazelhurst City School District with the Copiah County School District; the East Jasper School District with the West Jasper School District; the Amory School District with the Aberdeen School District; the East Tallahatchie Consolidated School District with the West Tallahatchie School District; the Leland School District with the Hollandale School District and the Western Line School District; the Coffeeville School District with the Water Valley School District; the North Panola School District with the South Panola School District; and the Clarksdale Municipal School District with the Coahoma County School District.

Local school leaders oppose consolidation efforts.

Winona Separate School District's Superintendent, Dr. Teresa Jackson said, "My utmost concern is for the students of Winona School District and what is best for them. The faculty, staff, and administration are working diligently to move our district forward in the midst of many new initiatives and programs. We will not allow anything to distract us from providing our students with the skills and experiences necessary to prepare them for college and career. The authors of the consolidation bills do not know our schools and communities personally. I believe it is our responsibility to voice our thoughts, ideas, history, and concerns to our representatives so they can share them with their colleagues before the state's governing bodies make decisions that will have a great effect on all of us."

Winona Mayor Jerry Flowers also opposed the consolidation.

"The citizens of Winona have paid additional taxes for over 40 years to build up a great school district," Flowers said. "If something is working, why change?"

Billy Joe Ferguson, superintendent of the Carroll County School District, was baffled on the announcement of the bill. Ferguson, the longest serving of the three area superintendents, said there is a lot of explaining to do when it comes to consolidation.

"I honestly don't know," Ferguson said. "Usually there's a reason for doing something like this."

Ferguson said he would understand the Montgomery County and Winona part of the Senate Bill, but is confused on why Carroll County is part of it.

"There are more people over there than [there] is here," Ferguson said. "There's more wealth here, when you count in the assessed value. There's a lot of explaining to do."

Ferguson said he didn't think it was a good idea, and admits he hasn't heard a lot from the community about the Senate Bill yet.

"This is something that will be hugely unpopular," Ferguson said.

Montgomery County School District Superintendent Michael Hood said both bills do not provide details about how a consolidation would work.

"When transporting students by bus from population centers like Duck Hill and Vaiden, do you take them the shortest possible distance to the school?" Hood asked. "If so, that would be to Winona. If so, the schools in Winona would have to hire more teachers and possibly add on to a building. Will you transport your best teachers into areas that have historically low test scores? From an academic standpoint, you want to put your best teachers in the most-needed classes. As for ad valorem tax, all the districts have different millage rates. Are you going to average the millage out for everyone to pay the same?"

Winona Separate School District operates on 52.1 mils; Montgomery County School District operates on 41 mils, and Carroll County Schools operate on 32.49 mils.

"All the districts do very well, but there is always room for improvement," Hood said. "Being a graduate of Winona schools and superintendent of Montgomery County Schools, at this point I have not seen anything that would be advantageous to any of the districts [by consolidating]."

State Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona) said, "Having read the bill, I will vote against [SB 2620] because the people in the separate school district are opposed to it."

Representative Bobby Howell (R-Kilmichael) said he does not think HB 760 will work.

"The bill is talking administrative consolidation," Howell said. "There is a lot that needs to be looked at and considered. If it moves forward, a lot of work needs to be done and a lot considered. The way it is now, I don't think it would benefit either [Winona Separate School District or Montgomery County School District]."

Howell said on the House of Representatives' side, he is working to kill the proposed bill, but there are many school districts involved besides Winona and Montgomery County.

"I would think that 90 percent of those with schools involved would oppose it," Howell said.

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