By Floyd Ingram
HOULKA – A nine-member commission brought together to determine how the Legislature should create a united Chickasaw Consolidated School District met Wednesday with state leaders and cleared “a big hurdle” in the overall process, according to state leaders.
Members of the commission met Tuesday in Houlka with leaders from the state to offer input on how the Mississippi Legislature should dissolve Houston, Okolona and Houlka school districts and reconstitute them as a united Chickasaw Consolidated School District, as well as to determine how consolidated school board members would be chosen. It was not an easy decision for commission members.
“I think this was a big hurdle for this commission,” said Mike Kent, Mississippi Department of Education Deputy State Superintendent and Chickasaw Consolidation Commission Chairman. “Determining how this community wants to select the people who will direct a new consolidated school district was a very big decision. We covered a lot of ground today. I am pleased.”
This spring, the Mississippi Legislature demanded a study be completed on whether Houston, Okolona and Houlka should consolidate their central offices, superintendents and ancillary services under a newly formed Chickasaw Consolidated School District as outlined in Senate Bill 991.
The plan chosen by the Commission yesterday would see Houston, Okolona and Houlka school district voters choose one trustee from their respective school districts. Voters countywide would then pick two at-large members for the five-member Chickasaw Consolidated School Board.
But the decision was not made without an intense discussion on what was fair that often carried blatant racial overtones.
The Commission haggled over the question of whether Okolona students living in Monroe County and currently attending Okolona schools would be part of the newly consolidated district.
Kent said district line decisions would probably be made by the Legislature, and the Commission was charged with assisting in administrative consolidation. He also pointed out many decisions would be left to the newly formed Chickasaw County School Board.
The Commission also proposed delaying consolidation until Houlka Superintendent Betsy Collums’ term runs out Dec. 31, 2019 and Superintendents Dexter Green, of Okolona, and Tony Cook, of Houston, see contracts with their respective districts expire. Unseating an elected superintendent presented legal challenges, and Green and Cook would have to be paid for the full term of their contracts if they were let go.
The commission agreed unanimously to a timeline that detailed everything from when the new school board would meet to setting pay scales for district employees. The Legislature, however, would have the final say on any timeline.
The newly formed Chickasaw County Consolidated District would have between 2,900 and 3,000 students. High schools would remain in their current sports classifications and would keep their team mascots.
No new facilities were formally proposed by the Commission.