BILL CRAWFORD: Consolidation of schools dies a quick death

By Bill Crawford

Sigh.
The governor’s Commission on Mississippi Educational Structure can at long last rest in peace, like its soon to be dormant recommendations.
Remember, this is the commission appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to show how to consolidate up to 50 school districts and save millions of taxpayer dollars.
Friday, Sept. 10, it handed in recommendations that were due April 1. Guess that due date should have clued us.
• No school districts were recommended for closure.
• No savings were calculated.
Pummeled by those who oppose any form of consolidation, the 19 commissioners ignored several bold options to consolidate school districts. Rather, they chose to meekly propose for the Legislature to offer incentives for school districts to “voluntarily consolidate.”
Closing one hand and most of the other, use your remaining fingers to count the number of voluntary consolidations in Mississippi over the past two decades. Yep, you’ve got fingers left over and a good indication of the likelihood of voluntary consolidation.
Give most commission members credit. A majority did approve a recommendation to force consolidation of “support services and back-office operations” in counties with multiple school districts.
Buried in the report’s appendices you can find a chart showing the percentage of education money spent by category. Mississippi spends a higher percentage than most Southern states for administration and operations. For example, Mississippi spends 3.1 percent of funds on general administration while South Carolina spends 1.3 percent. Mississippi spends 12 percent on operation and maintenance while Tennessee spends 9.8 percent. This shows savings can be had.
Unfortunately, this one bold recommendation will be dead on arrival in the Legislature.
While most of the 19 commissioners favored this recommendation, among five who did not were Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson and Sen. Videt Carmichael of Meridian. Since Brown and Carmichael chair the House and Senate Education committees that would get the proposed legislation, you can expect it to lie dormant if not quickly die. No doubt Cecil and Videt were influenced by state Superintendent Tom Burnham and his predecessor, IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds, who voted against the proposal. I also doubt they were encouraged by the Hinds County and Lauderdale County superintendents who have no fervent desire to work closely with their city brethren and vice versa.
On another note, the commission report makes it clear that members had concerns about forcing consolidation on parents and taxpayers. Yet, they proposed no recommendation to give motivated parents or taxpayers a way to call for district or backshop consolidation.
Folks, banks, businesses, and even the federal government know from experience that consolidation of administrative and operations functions can reduce costs. Given our dire state finances, you’d think opportunities like this would become priorities.
Sigh.

Bill Crawford is a former legislator from Meridian. Contact him at tmibill@bellsouth.net.