By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Oktibbeha County School District, allowing the state Board of Education to take over the troubled system.
“I have reviewed the findings by the Mississippi Department of Education and agree the current leadership in the Oktibbeha County School District is jeopardizing the learning environment,” Bryant said Friday in a prepared statement. “This pattern cannot continue. The students and communities in that district deserve better.”
The board on Thursday asked Bryant to declare a state of emergency because of “serious violations of accreditation standards ” by the district and “a continuing pattern of poor student performance.”
The district, which consists of four schools with an enrollment of less than 1,000, also was taken over by the state in the mid-1990s. At that time, the Legislature held hearings on the possibility of merging the Oktibbeha and Starkville districts, but could not reach a consensus.
Oktibbeha also was one of about 20 districts cited as possible candidates for a merger by a commission formed by then-Gov. Haley Barbour in 2009 to look at school district consolidation. This past session, legislation passed merging districts in Sunflower and Bolivar counties. Some legislators want to look at other district consolidation possibilities in the coming session.
The state Board of Education’s audit team found that the Oktibbeha County did not meet 29 of 30 accreditation standards. Under the law, the state board cannot take over the district and appoint a conservator to oversee the day-to-day operations until the governor declares a state of emergency.
Jayne Sargent, former Jackson superintendent, will serve as the interim conservator until mid-December for a maximum of $58,750, including travel. After that, she will be replaced by an unidentified person.
The state Department of Education will hold a public forum to discuss the takeover at 6 p.m. Monday at East Oktibbeha High School.