Tuesday, the Mississippi House of Representatives voted 117 to zero to make the school board of the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District fully elected from the county’s current supervisor districts. Senate Bill 2502 was already passed by the senate, and it now awaits the signature of Governor Tate Reeves.
If signed into law by Reeves, the bill, authored by Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona), changes the current make-up of the board from three members appointed by the Winona Board of Aldermen and two elected from two districts outside the city limits of Winona to all five members elected from the same districts as the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. All five seats will be on the ballot in November, with the new board taking office on January 1, 2021.
The bill states, “At said election the member of the said board from District One shall be elected for a term of one (1) year, the member from District Two shall be elected for a term of two (2) years, the member from District Three shall be elected for a term of three (3) years, the member from District Four shall be elected for a term of four (4) years, and the member from District Five shall be elected for a term of five (5) years. Thereafter, members shall be elected at special elections as vacancies occur for terms of five (5) years each.”
In February, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Rep. Karl Oliver (R-Winona) requesting his assistance in amending the current consolidation legislation that dictates the make-up of the board. Oliver introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, and Chassaniol, who stated that she was also asked by the board of supervisors to change the make-up of the school board, introduced SB 2502, which eventually was adopted in both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature.
The board of supervisors agreed that the school board needed more accountability to the taxpayers when it came to setting the district’s tax millage request each year.
“We didn’t think [how the school board was composed] was right from day one,” Supervisor Ron Wood said. “The board of supervisors feel like there is no accountability from the school board.”
Winona Mayor Jerry Flowers and a majority of the Winona Board of Aldermen sent their own letter to Oliver and Chassaniol, opposing the legislation due to a large majority of students, around 80 percent, making up the newly-consolidated district came from the Winona Separate School District, which was governed by board members appointed by the city. The hybrid board of three appointed and two elected was a compromise in the consolidation legislation.
Flowers stated that he was concerned that the City of Winona would have little to no representation if all board members were elected, just as the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors have no one serving that is a resident of the City of Winona.
Dr. Teresa Jackson, superintendent of education for the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District, said, “Great school boards are made up of people from the community who are supporters of public education. That is what Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District has had from the very beginning and what I expect will continue no matter how the board makeup is determined. The current board members have exhibited outstanding commitment to serving all the students of the consolidated district.”
The Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District is comprised of Matt Surrell, Cheryl Small, and Tim Privitt, who were appointed by the Winona Board of Aldermen, and Jill White and Brandye Brannon, who were elected last November.
Surrell, who is serving as president of the board, recently submitted his resignation, and the Winona Board of Aldermen were tasked with appointing someone to finish his term on the board. Tuesday night, Flowers told the board of aldermen, due to the developments at the state capitol, appointing a replacement was “moot point.”
According to Jackson, if the bill is signed by Governor Reeves, the qualifying for candidates interested in seeking a position on the school board will begin on August 5.
“The work of the school board is to set the vision and goals for the district, adopt policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals, hire and evaluate the superintendent, and adopt and oversee the annual budget,” Jackson said.
Jackson said the current goals of the school board are to raise student achievement, maintain a safe and orderly school climate, provide a positive K-12 educational experience, and maintain a yearly financial fund balance of 12 percent of revenue.
“I would recommend that those who are interested in running for the WMCSD school board spend some time studying the information available at the Mississippi School Boards Association website, www.msbaonline.org,” Jackson said. “There is a great booklet called ‘So You Want to be a School Board Member’ that can be found on the MSBA website or on our website at www.winonamontgomerycsd.com.