Legislature votes on local school district mergers

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Legislation was passed Wednesday to merge school districts in two Northeast Mississippi counties – Oktibbeha and Clay.
The Senate voted to merge the Clay County District with West Point without a dissenting vote while the House voted 107-6 to merge the Oktibbeha District with Starkville.
The bills will now switch chambers to be considered.
The legislation marks the second consecutive year the Legislature has dealt with the controversial topic of school district consolidation in individual counties instead of on a larger scale, which was proposed unsuccessfully by former Gov. Haley Barbour.
The mergers in Clay and Oktibbeha counties appear less controversial than last year’s efforts where districts in Bolivar and Sunflower counties were merged.
Sen. Angela Turner, D-West Point, said she supported the merger in Clay County.
“Moving forward and progressing, I think this is a good thing,” she said.
In the House, Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, has long supported the merger.
He said because of the size of the county districts, the students are missing out on class offerings and opportunities.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the Clay County District now has about 125 students in a kindergarten through sixth grade school. The older students already go to school in West Point.
He said the district spends about 15 percent of its total budget – or more than $300,00 annually – on administration compared to about 4 percent for the average district.
Under the proposal that passed the Senate, the school board for the merged districts would be elected from the five supervisory districts.
The Oktibbeha District has about 900 students.
Under the legislation that passed the House, the academic performance of the students from the Oktibbeha district would not count against the accreditation ranking of the Starkville district for a period of time.
Plus, the merged district would be governed by the Starkville School Board. When the first opening occurred on the Board, the Oktibbeha Board of Supervisors would appoint a resident of the old Oktibbeha County School District as the new member.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com