UPDATE: State takeover of Aberdeen schools recommended (Storify included)

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Aberdeen School District did not meet 31 of the 37 accreditation standards mandated by Mississippi law and now faces the specter of being taking over by the state.
The Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation on Wednesday voted to recommend a state of emergency in the Monroe County district after an audit by the state Department of Education alleged:
• Incidents that jeopardized the safety of the students.
• Instances where the local school board disregarded state and federal laws.
• A continuation of poor student performance.
The resolution adopted Wednesday by the Commission stated “there is sufficient cause to believe that an extreme emergency exists… brought on by serious findings… which jeopardize the safety, security and educational interests” of about 1,100 students in the district.
The state Board of Education will act on the recommendation of the Accreditation Commission on Friday. If the state board agrees and Gov. Phil Bryant issues the state of emergency, the state will place a conservator in the district to oversee day-to-day operations.
The conservatorship – hired by the state’s education board – would have complete control of personnel in the district and could dissolve the local school board.
Paula Vanderford, executive secretary of the Commission of School Accreditation, said the audit of the school district began in January, but problems in the system have been ongoing.
“I don’t think these happened all at once,” she said
School Board President Royce Stephens and interim Superintendent Bobby Eiland testified Wednesday before the Commission.
Eiland, who was appointed in January after the Board by a 3-2 vote fired Superintendent Chester Leigh, admitted problems, but said teachers and staff are working to correct those problems.
The board was accused of a litany of other infractions, including violating open meetings laws. The report alleged the district did not adhere to federal guidelines in terms of educating special needs children and has had financial issues, including barely being able to meet its payroll in December. The district also has used state funds for purposes other than what they were designated, resulting in the need for the district to reimburse funds to the state, according to the audit.
Other findings of the state Department of Education investigation were that crisis plans were not developed and the district’s discipline policy were not uniformly enforced.
Seven school districts in the state, including Okolona, are in conservatorship.

Read more in Thursday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

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