By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Whether legislation to merge three school districts in Sunflower County will be the extent of consolidation efforts during the 2012 session has not been determined.
Legislation to merge the three school districts in Sunflower County passed the Senate 43-4 on Wednesday.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, did not rule out further consideration of school district consolidation, but said his first priority is seeing if the Sunflower merger bill can make it through the legislative process.
Tollison said the legislation is being passed to merge the Sunflower, Drew and Indianola systems because all three are low-performing and are being managed by state-appointed conservators.
He said merging the three districts would save $1.2 million in administrative costs. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who has made consolidating the three low-performing districts a part of his legislative agenda, said that does not mean the state would save that money since the state appropriates funds to schools based on student enrollment, not administrative costs.
“By combining these failing school districts into one, we can give students in Sunflower County an opportunity for a better education,” Reeves said. “By eliminating duplicative functions, this new school district could be able to spend more than $1 million more on classroom needs.”
The legislation passed overwhelmingly, but only after lengthy debate. Some of the opposition centered around the loss of jobs, the fact it had not been endorsed by the citizens of the area and the fact that the state Board of Education had not endorsed the merger. Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said more specific programs and more parental involvement would make more difference in the area than consolidation would.
Former Gov. Haley Barbour recommended reducing the state’s 152 school districts by about one-third. Consultants hired on recommendation of the governor’s staff recommended a plan to merge about 20 districts. The commission did not include that plan in its report, but it did recommend the plan’s methodology be used to offer incentives for systems to consolidate voluntarily.
The bill passed Wednesday would create one countywide district with an elected school board and appointed superintendent.