The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of supporting the actions of state legislature in regards to a bill proposing consolidation of Starkville City and Oktibbeha County schools during its meeting Monday.
District 2 Supervisor and Board President Orlando Trainer moved for the board to put its support of consolidation in writing to have a backing document showing county support when he goes to Jackson to speak with state leaders about the county’s stance on consolidation. Having a representative of the county, he said, is important because Starkville School District leaders have voiced their concerns regarding consolidation with legislators.
Miss. H.B. 716 is now before the state’s Senate Education Committee after it passed through the house by a 107-6 vote last week.
District 3 Supervisor Marvel Howard was the dissenting vote and voiced concerns over prematurely throwing support behind a bill that is still traveling through government chambers. Doing so now without waiting to see the final version of the bill with amendments by the Senate would be supporting a resolution without having all the information necessary to decide if county leaders should fully support the bill, he said.
“I think everybody agrees that consolidation would be a good thing for this county. It’s pretty much a no-brainer, but for a resolution right now with the bill still traveling and we don’t really know the bottom line … it might be slightly premature,” Howard said. “I think there have been some concerns about consolidation and some of the things written in the bill. I would like to see a final bill before we commit a resolution that comes from the board.”
Howard added that he’s not in support of a version of the bill that allows the city to appoint three of the board’s five seats while only allowing the county to appoint one.
“Once you consolidate, you are one,” he said. “There’s no more county and city, so do away with the entire board and start over with a whole new board.”
District 4 Supervisor noted that whatever decision the Senate comes to will not hinge on a document from county leaders showing support.
Trainer said waiting until action from the Senate might compromise the bill’s chances of passing.
“I don’t think we ought to be haphazard and wait until the final version comes out because there may not be a final version if we don’t follow this thing through,” Trainer said. “A resolution that says we support consolidation … gives us a leg to work on some of the (concerns). A lot of the concerns and questions people have won’t be answered by the legislature. It will be answered by the new board that is formed.”
Howard supported Trainer being the person to represent the county’s supportive stance on consolidation on the condition that he also seeks answers to questions stakeholders may have.
“Once you consolidate into one school system, (taxpayers should know if) everybody will pay an equal amount of taxes. If you’re going to be a spokesman I’d like for you to take some concerns and try to get some answers and not just say we’re in support of consolidation. Whenever the bill passes and the governor signs it, it’s a bill, but at this point it’s still being amended and they need to hear from us some concerns we have,” Howard said. “I support consolidation in its truest sense of the word ‘consolidated,’ (which is) not to say that we can save the state some money and consolidate in theory … and not (have) true consolidation that is concerned about children that is going to get them a better education. At this point to me, if you’re going to keep the same lines, you’re going to keep the same scores, the kids are going to be going to the same schools, those are some concerns.”
District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams agreed with Howard that the county maintain some representation on a consolidated school board.
“I hope we would retain at least that one representative. That’s my reservation, too, is to go on and support a resolution in support of this bill. I guess that’s not what the resolution says (which is that) we support consolidation but still do not yet support this particular bill, and so we support it with some reservation and concern,” Williams said. “I would hate to support something and it end up being worse than what it already is after it goes through the Senate Education Committee. I would hate for them to chop it up … and then we go on record supporting it. I think how we say this thing is going to be important, how the resolution is worded.”
After the meeting, Trainer said going on record in support of legislators’ final say is a step in a positive direction.
“This thing has a lot of moving pieces and a lot of sensitive ground but at least the board does have something that it can put its hands around … We won’t be the lead party in regarding to how this plays out but at least we understand how important it is to our county. I think our county is suffering from a lack of leadership. I want to try to provide some leadership. Whether everybody is going to agree or not, that’s not the intent,” Trainer said. “I think that what we need to do is once we get this together send that to our Senators and at least they’ll say they’ve got something from people who represent this particular area. We need it and … it can be somewhat of a gamble, but in my mind I don’t see how — under whatever version of it — we could not be better. I’ll stand on top of the courthouse and say that. You either have something or you stay where you are. You know what you’ve got, and we all agree that’s not going to be acceptable, so whatever we get, that is better than what we’ve got.”
In other action, the board unanimously opted not to take action on a proposed lease of the county’s portion of Oktibbeha County Lake. In November, John Barnett and Rick Stansbury signed a lease for the county school district’s portion of the lake property. District 1 Supervisor and Board Vice President John Montgomery asked for clarification as to whether or not it is commonplace for the lessees of the school’s portion of the lake to have the first opportunity at leasing the county’s section. Howard said he wanted to ensure that the section of the lake would stay open to the public and was not certain that the agreement allows for public access. Trainer then made the recommendation to table the matter.