Panel OKs end to elected school chiefs

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The House Education Committee passed legislation Thursday requiring all school superintendents to be appointed by 2016.
Currently in Mississippi 64 of the 151 school districts have elected superintendents. Efforts have been under way for years by various groups, including the Mississippi Economic Council, to have all of the superintendents appointed by school boards.
The proposal has passed the Senate in previous years, but not the House. Legislation already has passed the Senate Education Committee this year to make all superintendents appointed, but giving school district residents the opportunity to vote to retain an elected superintendent.
Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford, said in many smaller counties there is a limited number of people with the qualifications to serve as superintendent.
“If you really want to change education, don’t be limited by your county,” said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus. “Go nationwide to find the right person to run your school districts.”
Others argued against taking the right to vote away from citizens. And several De Soto Couny legislators pointed out their school district was excelling with an elected superintendent and should not be penalized.
Rep. Wanda Jennings, R-Southaven, said she was “deeply offended” that her party seems to be trying to pass legislation that penalized her school district, “one of the top five, if not best system in the state.”
Jennings was among a group of DeSoto County Republicans who have opposed efforts of the Republican leadership to pass charter school legislation.
The House Education Committee also passed several other proposals Thursday that could have significant impact on the state’s public education.
SPECIAL ED VOUCHERS
The bill would allow special education students a voucher to attend private school. As the bill is written, the voucher apparently would be available to students ranging from those who are simply receiving speech therapy to those with more intensive special education needs.
According to the state Department of Education, the bill could provide the potential of vouchers for at least 65,000 students.
When asked about the impact of the bill, Moore said, “It has a long way to go in the process.”
BUDGET VETO
Another bill would give boards of supervisors in county school districts and boards of aldermen or city councils in municipal school districts the authority to veto any increase in the school district budget.
Under current law, local school districts can increase the budget up to 4 percent – as long as they stay within the tax levy cap – without the approval of the supervisors or municipal governing board. The county board or municipal board must set the millage rate to collect the budgeT increase.
Supporters of the legislation, including the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said supervisors or municipal officials had a better understanding of local finances than did the school boards and the decision should rest with them.
But others said local school boards had a better understanding of the needs of the schools.
DISTRICT MERGER
Legislation to merge the Oktibbeha County School District with the Starkville District also passed the Education Committee. Under the legislation, 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