By The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — The attorney for the Starkville School Board says U.S. Department of Justice approval is needed for future consolidation with the Oktibbeha County schools even though legislators approved the merger this year.
The Commercial Dispatch reports that Dolton McAlpin told board members that Justice Department approval will be needed as long as both districts are still under federal desegregation orders.
“Despite the fact that the Legislature believes it may have consolidated the school district, it won’t happen until a federal judge says it’s going to happen and the Department of Justice agrees. You can set up attendance zones … and then the DOJ could say, ‘No.’ That’s a potential nightmare,” he said.
McAlpin said the school district should consider hiring an attorney with background on school desegregation issues.
“I really do think you need some advice, at least initially, about what you can expect and what the pitfalls are about the court order. You really don’t want to make a lot of plans and then find out the Justice Department doesn’t agree, nor does a federal judge agree with any of it.
“A federal judge trumps the Legislature, and I’m not sure they understand that,” McAlpin said.
House Bill 716 is awaiting Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature.
“We can do a lot of work (preparing for consolidation), but at the end of the day they could say no,” said Starkville Superintendent Lewis Holloway.
If the school merger bill is signed into law, Holloway said the district should hold a special meeting to begin discussions on how to fill its three seats of the consolidation study committee. Under the bill, a merger report is due to the Legislature, governor and Mississippi Department of Education by March 1, 2014. The results of the study are not binding. The bill would require consolidation be done by July 1, 2015.