Miss. to consider takeovers of 3 school districts

Education stockJEFF AMY, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — State officials will consider taking control of the Claiborne County, LeFlore County and Yazoo City school districts next week.

Action on Claiborne County was expected after state Board of Education members asked the subsidiary Accrediting Commission to consider a takeover last month. Board members had voiced concerns that a proposed withdrawal of accreditation might fail to solve problems with the school board and superintendent.

LeFlore County and Yazoo City were added to the commission’s agenda Thursday. State Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle declined to comment Friday on the reasons for the proposed actions, but said the two new districts would probably be given time to defend themselves in hearings Tuesday, when the Accrediting Commission meets.

If the commission moves ahead, the State Board of Education is likely to seek emergency declarations at its meeting Friday. If Gov. Phil Bryant approves, officials could quickly appoint conservators, removing current superintendents and school boards. Elected superintendents are usually permanently changed to appointed posts in districts that are taken over. School board members at the time of a takeover are barred from ever serving again after a district is returned to local control.

Both Yazoo City and LeFlore County have been audited for compliance in the last year, and takeovers typically follow state investigations that find schools are violating standards. Takeovers are sometimes provoked when school board members overstep their authority and try to impose specific administrative decisions on a superintendent.

Yazoo City and LeFlore County have scored poorly on state tests, with questions of test cheating surfacing at one LeFlore County school. Both are on probation, meaning they’re supposed to remedy problems or face further action.

The former superintendent in LeFlore County lost re-election. The current superintendent, Viola Williams-McCaskill, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. However, she acknowledged problems in a newsletter posted on the district’s website over the summer.

“The district is making all efforts to correct all deficiencies within the allotted 60-day time frame,” Williams-McCaskill wrote in the undated newsletter. “Corrective action plans have been completed and were submitted to MDE on Tuesday, June 4.”

Yazoo City Superintendent Arthur Cartlidge couldn’t be reached for comment.

Department of Education officials have wanted to move away from takeovers, instead revoking accreditation. Loss of accreditation means districts can play only half their regular-season high school athletic games and can’t participate in playoffs. It does not affect a high school student’s chance of being admitted into college.

The state currently controls seven districts — Aberdeen, Sunflower-Drew, Indianola, Oktibbeha County, North Panola, Hazlehurst and Tate County. The state is moving to return the latter three to local control. Under current law, any district taken over by the state also would lose its accreditation. Oktibbeha County is the only district currently without accreditation. The other six districts were taken over before the law was changed.

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