All-elected school boards among week’s casualties

djournal-state-news-mississippiBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A bill to elect all school board members was among scores of proposals that died last week in the Mississippi Legislature either by being voted down or not called up for consideration.

Currently, school board members in most municipal school districts, including Tupelo, are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the city council or board of aldermen. A proposal to make all school board members elected was alive in the House but never called up for consideration.

The leadership has indicated that it wants to focus this year on making all superintendents appointed, but while such a proposal passed by the Senate is alive, it appears to be opposed by a majority of the House.

District mergers

When the 2014 legislative session began, bills were filed dealing with the mergers of more than 20 school districts, including Amory/Aberdeen and Chickasaw County/Okolona in Northeast Mississippi.

On Friday morning, efforts to consolidate the Durant and Holmes County school districts were rejected by the state House after more than one hour of debate, leaving only two consolidation efforts alive – to merge the Leflore County and Greenwood districts and the Montgomery County and Winona districts.

Thursday was the final day to take up bills, including the consolidation proposals, in their originating chambers. The House could take up the Holmes County/Durant bill on Friday because it originally was considered, though defeated, on Thursday.

That allowed the House leadership, through parliamentary maneuvers, to garner another vote on the measure on Friday where it was defeated again by a 58-55 margin.

Other key education proposals that died on Thursday’s deadline included legislation:

• To take failing schools from their local districts and place them in a new statewide Achievement School District – under the governance of either the state Board of Education or a new school board.

• To allow students to transfer without school board permission from failing school districts.

• To strip the provision requiring the executive director of the new Charter School Authorizing Board to be an attorney.

Legislation was killed in the Senate to remove Personnel Board or civil service protection for two years from state employees. The bill never was called up for consideration.

But a bill did pass the House to remove civil service protection for employees of the state Department of Education for two years. That bill or some other in the Senate could be amended to remove civil service protection for employees of all state agencies.

Supporters said the program is needed to allow agencies “to right size” without having to deal with Personnel Board restrictions. Opponents say agency heads can work within the Personnel Board framework to do reorganizations without stripping civil service protection.

Too early

“Nothing is really dead until sine die,” said Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, referring to the end of the session. Reynolds said it is too early in the session to celebrate or mourn the demise or any proposal before the Legislature.

But based on what passed before Thursday’s key deadline, the key issues of the 2014 session have become more clearly defined.

Those include:

• A teacher pay raise.

• A proposal to provide state funds to allow special-needs children to pursue a private education.

• State-funded community college tuition for all high school graduates.

• Reforms to the criminal justice system designed at least in part to curb the growth in the prison budget.

• Various programs to offset the decision of the political leadership not to expand Medicaid as is allowed under new federal law.

• Efforts to curb union activity in the state.

Plus budget and revenue issues that were not subject to Thursday’s deadline will dominate much of the remainder of the session that is scheduled to end in early April.

Among the revenue measures is a proposal that could reduce the amount of taxes collected from companies doing business in the state, but not headquartered in Mississippi.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com