BILL FOR STATE TO TAKE OVER TROUBLED SCHOOL DISTRICTS GOES TO FORDICE
By Bobby Harrison
Daly Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Gov. Kirk Fordice will have another opportunity to sign a bill that would allow the state Department of Education to take over troubled school districts.
The House of Representatives passed the emergency conservatorship bill Wednesday – one day after the same measure passed the state Senate. House Speaker Tim Ford, D-Tupelo, said the governor should have the bill by Thursday afternoon or Friday.
The bill, which needed a 60 percent majority, passed 102-18 in the House.
Fordice vetoed the bill earlier this month because it took funds from the Working Cash-Stabilization Fund. He said that fund was established to cover state budget shortfalls and natural disasters.
The bill he now will have an opportunity to sign would take the money from available education funds. Under the bill, the state Department of Education can loan up to $2 million to a troubled school district.
But the Department of Education also must remove from office the school board members and administrators who caused the problem. Fordice has indicated to legislative leaders and to the media that he would sign the bill as long as the loan funds for the school district come from another source.
While the bill would apply to any school district in trouble, it was first introduced because of the nearly bankrupt North Panola School District. State Department of Education officials say the district could be broke by March 31 and thus close, leaving 2,200 students without a school system.
State officials blame local mismanagement for the district’s financial woes. The bill gives the governor the power to declare a state of emergency. This would provide the state Board of Education authority to appoint a conservator to run the district. The state Board also would loan $1.4 million to the district.
State Rep. V.C. Manning, D-Philadelphia, who explained the bill on the floor of the House, stressed that the bill is not a bail-out of the North Panola District.
“It is a throw-out, not a bail-out,” Manning said. “It mandates the state Board of Education to throw these people (North Panola School board members) out of office. I call it a throw-out, not a bail-out.”
Before the section dealing with removing officials from office can be implemented, Manning said it must gain approval of the U.S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act.