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Chism: School merger bill passes House Education Committee

January 31, 2013

Chism

State Rep. Gary Chism confirmed an Oktibbeha County school consolidation bill with several amendments to the potential district's governance passed the Miss. House Education Committee today.

Miss. H.B. 716, as filed by Republican Rep. Toby Barker, would consolidate Starkville School District and Oktibbeha County School District into the Starkville Consolidated School District in 2015.

Chism, a member of the House Education Committee whose district consists of a portion of Oktibbeha County, said an amendment will allow the current Starkville school board to remain in place if a consolidation occurs. A school board seat expiring March 2015 would be appointed by the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors, he said, and the board would retain three city-appointed seats. The district's elected seat, held by SSD Board President Keith Coble, would remain an elected position from added territory outside the city limits but inside the boundaries of the current school district. Chism also said the amended bill would allow current school district boundaries and attendance zones to remain in place.

The school board will also be allowed to appoint the district's superintendent, Chism said.

Another major amendment separates the two school systems' testing scores for five years, he said.

Under the proposed changes, the consolidated district would officially form in 2015; however, merger planning would begin immediately if the bill is passed by the legislature.

Until the districts merged, Chism said OCSD could remain under conservatorship. OCSD Conservator Margie Pulley declined to comment on consolidation efforts Thursday.

The bill will now be placed on the full House's agenda, Chism said. Representatives should act on the measure next week, he said.

Before the House Education Committee moved the bill forward today, Chism said legislators were joined by Rep. Tyrone Ellis, a Democrat who represents Oktibbeha County. Ellis made a strong plea for the bill's passage to legislators, Chism said.

A phone call to Ellis was not returned as of publication. Previously, Ellis said school consolidation in Oktibbeha County would greatly impact the area's workforce and economic development efforts.

In a press conference Tuesday, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said no matter how legislators choose to proceed, the goal of the district remains the same: providing a quality education for its students. In that same meeting, Holloway said SSD requested additional funding from the legislature if consolidation occurs, but a dollar figure has not been finalized.

As a consolidated district, Starkville would receive the county's MAEP allotment from the state, federal funds currently provided to the county and the county's ad valorem returns. Numerous gaps exist between the two school systems, including technology, infrastructure and testing assessment systems.

"We pointed out several items that need to be addressed, (including) facilities — which are major issues for some county schools — technology, SMART Boards, laptops and assessment systems," Holloway said Tuesday. "If this bill comes to be … (OCSD needs) to be moving, as a school district, to be more like ours."

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