BILL CRAWFORD: Will 'Blue Ribbon' panel get larger point?

By Bill Crawford

Nothing titanic leaped out of the consultant’s report on school district consolidation.
The Governor’s “Blue Ribbon Commission” heard recommendations to consolidate 18 districts – 14 of them because of small size, low scores, and high admin costs; four because of poor performance.
Talk about missing the point.
Gov. Haley Barbour formed his Blue Ribbon Commission to cut the number of school districts by one-third.
Right: one-third of 152 is between 50 and 51. What happened to those other 32 or 33 desired consolidations?
The governor wanted to improve schools and save money.
“Consolidating school districts will reduce administration costs in the short term, will ultimately match effective teachers with “rightsized” classes, and will push more money into the classroom, improving educational achievement by our K12 students,” he said.
“It’s high time to recognize that Mississippi’s having 152 school districts across 82 counties is a model of inefficiency,” he emphasized. “These tough decisions must be made in FY 2011, so the full impact of consolidation – an estimated $65 million savings – will come to fruition in FY 2012 when we see overall budget shortfalls grow as federal education money disappears.”
You know, maybe the consultant’s recommendations were Titanic after all.
You see, Mississippi has seldom been able to afford an “adequate” public school system, much less a nationally competitive one. You can count on one hand the number of years the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) has been fully funded. You can count on even fewer hands the number of years Mississippi schools have been rated nationally competitive. Test scores show us mired near the bottom.
You may need both hands to count the years before MAEP gets fully funded again – unless changes like the governor recommended are enacted.
While attention should be focused on rightsizing schools and districts so they can become more than “adequate,” the consultant has shifted attention to 18 poor school districts.
The appropriate phrase here is “tip of the iceberg,” a phrase coined from the fatal Titanic collision with an iceberg.
The consultant saw the tip of the iceberg and recommended a small course change. The governor saw the whole iceberg and recommended a dramatic new direction.
What will the Blue Ribbon Commission see, and recommend?
Will any of this affect what the State Board of Education sees? Or, the Legislature?
Mississippi State University is quietly taking over the backshop operations of Mississippi University for Women, a move that will result in huge savings. The same opportunity exists for 152 school districts to streamline costs. Millions could be saved without closing a single school or ousting a single school board.
Yet, the only relevant thing I hear is a faint version of Celine Dione’s haunting theme song from the Titanic.
Bill Crawford is a former legislator from Meridian. Contact him at 1124 Windmill Drive, Meridian, MS 39305, or crawfolk@gmail.com.