By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville School District Board of Directors denied one parent’s request for her children to transfer from the Oktibbeha County School District to the SSD, but it accepted the same request from Orlando Trainer, because he has become an SSD employee.
The SSD board tabled Trainer’s request in November to give more consideration to the precedent allowing OCSD-SSD transfers would set and the financial issues such transfers could create. The agenda originally listed Trainer’s transfer request and a transfer request from Tamika Cattledge under the same heading, but when the board reached that point in the agenda, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said the two items were in fact separate.
“Trainer has been applying to be a bus driver for the SSD,” Holloway said. “Since he has been accepted for a bus driver position, his (request) becomes a request from an employee. I recommend we accept Orlando Trainer’s request, because ... his status has changed.”
Earlier in the meeting, the board had approved the same requests from other SSD employees living outside the SSD’s normal parameters, and at that time, SSD board president Keith Coble said it was a long-standing practice to automatically allow such transfers for SSD employees’ children. As such, the SSD board approved Trainer’s request unanimously.
The board also denied Cattledge’s request with no opposing votes, although board member Lee Brand abstained, saying his feelings on the matter were vacillating. Holloway said just as the district has historically allowed transfers for children of SSD employees, it has historically not allowed them for children of non-employees.
“We are a little uneasy about, if we start doing that, what the end of the day is going to be,” Holloway said. “I think this is a discussion we’ll be having for several months.”
Brand then asked if any board members had gathered more information on consolidating the OCSD and the SSD. He said that was one of the key purposes of tabling the vote on Trainer’s request.
Holloway said it would be difficult to determine how many students would want to transfer without a survey, but the SSD has looked at state reports on the matter.
“(In the OCSD), they actually spend $2,000 more per student than we do,” Holloway said. “They receive more in federal money than we do, but if they come to us, they keep that money. The money’s not coming with them. Economically, in my mind, even if it were a small amount of students, it would be a drain on the school district. I guess it goes back to (this): I believe the OCSD will regain its accreditation before we ever get to a consolidation issue.”
Board member Eric Heiselt said he hopes to see the discussion of consolidation and transfers continue, and he would particularly like to see the OCSD explore options to remove the extra financial burden the SSD would take on from transfers.
Cattledge asked to speak to the board at one point during discussion of this matter. After a few more minutes of discussion, Heiselt asked the board to let Cattledge come forward, and they agreed.
Cattledge said she would pursue other avenues on her end to transfer her children into the SSD, including potentially moving within the Starkville city limits, but she said she was still concerned about one of her sons’ grades transferring over. This son is in ninth grade in the OCSD, she said, and without accreditation for the OCSD, she was concerned that her son’s academic credits would not transfer, forcing him to restart ninth grade upon joining the SSD. Several board members assured her this would not happen, but she said she was still concerned.
“My child is a straight-A student,” Cattledge said. “He is not getting his full potential; that’s why I put in the request. I don’t feel like, because I live in a certain district, my child should be hindered from having a good education. As a parent, I don’t want to fail (my children). I’ll do other things I can do personally, but I just wanted to let you know.”
After the meeting, Trainer said the board’s action on transfers was bittersweet. He was happy his own children would be able to transfer, he said, but he believes much work remains to be done for children who remain unable to transfer.
“I am encouraged based upon the conversations that I heard from the (SSD). The only thing I was disappointed in (was) that they took action on Mrs. Cattledge’s request,” Trainer said. “They could have just (taken) no action, (which) would have ended in the same result, but I think it would have sent a little different message.”
Trainer said he will make it one of his top priorities to seek a solution that will be beneficial for both school districts.
“I think we’ve got the right people in place that can really make something special happen. I think it is going to have to be a process,” Trainer said. “One step is further education about the opportunities and possibilities. I think the board members were a little unsure about a lot of things. I think (Cattledge) was even unsure, and I think what has to happen is some research and some actual facts, so people can make informed decisions.”