Tuesday evening, the school board of the Winona Montgomery Consolidated School District moved forward with tasks designated by the Mississippi Department of Education for the July 1 consolidation of the Winona and Montgomery County school districts.
With state consolidation expert Mike Kent in attendance Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Teresa Jackson, current Winona Separate School District superintendent of education, as the superintendent of the consolidated district.
Discussion about the position was done in a closed executive session, but the vote was taken once the meeting reopened to the public. Following a Matt Surrell motion, the board voted for the appointment unanimously. Tonny Seals was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Following the vote, Kent spoke to a full house of teachers, administrators, and parents from both Winona and Montgomery County school districts.
“[The Winona and Montgomery County consolidation bill] is the law, and that law directs the Mississippi Department of Education to go in and assist with forming the consolidated school district,” Kent said. “We are doing what we are directed to do by law. If litigation stops us, we will respect the law and stop.”
Last November, the Montgomery County School District and some of its parents filed an injunction to halt the consolidation, arguing the consolidation bill unconstitutional and a violation of civil rights to those living outside the Winona city limits. That filing has not yet gone before a judge.
“It takes time to create a school district,” Kent said.
In addressing questions from the audience regarding closing schools, if the district will have one or two sports teams or mascots, new employee requirements, and other personnel questions, consolidated school board chairman, Mark Middleton, said those questions cannot be answered until the newly-appointed superintendent has had time to assess operations at both districts and work closer with the state department.
Kent explained that the two individual school districts will continue on with the day-to-day governing and activities of the current school year.
The consolidated school board, which according to the consolidation law, will be made up of the current members of the Winona Separate School District until January 1, 2019, when two members of that appointed board will rotate off, and two members will be elected in Montgomery County, outside of Winona.
Kent said the consolidated school board is tasked with “creating policy and structure” in the consolidated district.
Kent said the consolidated school district and the two individual districts are facing two deadlines – March 15, when teachers must be told if their contracts will be renewed for the next school year, and April 15 when they will tell teachers and employees they will be renewed for the next year.
“In interim superintendent [now permanently-appointed superintendent, Dr. Teresa Jackson] has been asked to speak with employees to lower anxiety,” Kent said. “Things will be done strictly and above board, and everyone will have an opportunity to apply.”
The process in which teachers and employees are rehired for the new school year is outlined in the consolidation bill, as is the election of two board members from outside the city limits of Winona.
In addition, the board approved policies on district organization, school board operations, general school administration, fiscal management, and facility expansion. Revisions to these policies recommended by the Mississippi School Boards Association due to changes in legislation were also approved by the board.
According to Dr. Teresa Jackson, these are basic organizational policies and none of these policies pertain to students or teachers.
In addition to adopting the academic calendar for the 2018-2019 school year, the board voted to approve Marathon as the district’s financial software and grant permission to the newly-appointed superintendent to complete any tasks set forth by the state in the consolidation.
The board voted to appoint Lane Greenlee as the legal counsel for the consolidated district.
A logo for the consolidated school district was also adopted, and according to Jackson, “The logo was created to use as part of the new district's letterhead. W-orking together, M-oving forward, C-reating opportunities for S-tudent success and D-ynamic futures.”
Prior to adjourning the meeting, the board voted to hold a special-called meeting on February 27, 2018, at 6 p.m. in the library at Winona Elementary School.