Patterson to chair school consolidation panel

JACKSON – Tupelo banker Aubrey Patterson will chair a commission formed by Gov. Haley Barbour to study school district consolidation.
Barbour has proposed reducing the number of districts from 152 to 100 as a way to save money and make education more efficient in a time of a dramatic slowdown in revenue collections.
In November, when Barbour announced his proposal to consolidate districts, he said he would form a commission to study the issue and make recommendations to the Legislature and state Board of Education.
University consolidation, which Barbour also proposed, will not be part of this commission’s work.
“By consolidating districts, we can make sure state and local tax dollars are spent on educating our students and increase the quality of educational opportunities for Mississippi’s children,” Barbour said Monday in a news release announcing the formation of the Commission on Mississippi Education Structure.
The commission’s report is due April 1.
Patterson, chairman and chief executive officer of BancorpSouth, will lead a commission that includes the chairs of both committees on Education, Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, in the House and Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, in the Senate; state Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham; Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds; and Barksdale Reading Institute CEO Claiborne Barksdale of Oxford.
“I am certainly honored by the opportunity to serve with a distinguished group of legislators, educators and business leaders to study such an important subject,” said Patterson, a member of the state College Board. “We recognize it is a challenging subject, but one that hopefully will make an important contribution to Mississippi’s education structure for the future.”
No Northeast Mississippi school superintendent is on the panel, though the governor said other appointments are under consideration.
While Barbour proposed reducing the 152 school districts to 100, the news release said the commission would not be bound by the governor’s recommendations.
The commission also can recommend “other ways to maximize educational quality while eliminating duplicative and wasteful administrative spending.”
Both Brown and Carmichael, keys to the passage of any legislation because of their posts as Education committee chairs, have said they would consider consolidation, but voiced doubts on the likelihood of final passage.
They said roadblocks could include the different governing structures of the various school districts, inability to obtain Justice Department approval because of voting rights issues and different tax structures among districts.
Districts already have the authority to consolidate if local officials in both districts agree to the merger.
The 90-day legislative session is scheduled to end April 3. It is not clear whether the governor would call the Legislature back in special session to consider the commission’s recommendations.
Barbour has proposed the Legislature giving the state Board of Education the authority to merge districts based on the commission’s recommendations.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal