Lawmakers Look to Consolidate at Least 10 School Districts | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Lawmakers Look to Consolidate at Least 10 School Districts

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers want to abolish two school districts and consolidate at least eight others, part of a renewed push to pare down the state's 144 school districts to increase efficiency.

The Senate Education Committee voted Thursday to abolish Coahoma Agricultural High School and the Lumberton school district. Lumberton's territory would be split between the Poplarville and Lamar County school districts. Coahoma students would return to the Coahoma County and Clarksdale districts.

The committee also voted to merge the Durant and Holmes County school districts; the Houston, Chickasaw County and Okolona school districts; and the Carroll County, Montgomery County and Winona school districts.

All the combined districts would have elected school boards and appointed superintendents.

Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the school districts don't generate enough local revenue, and that they need to cut administrative costs by spreading them out over more students.

"There's no way they can continue to operate a school with that low a tax base," Tollison said. "This is just an administrative consolidation. They can keep the schools open and decide what they want to do."

The House Education Committee on Thursday approved a bill to merge Leflore County and Greenwood.

Each bill now moves to its respective full house for consideration.

Last year, the Legislature required officials from Durant and Holmes County to study consolidation. Mississippi Department of Education officials reported opposition was so strong that they had trouble persuading people to serve on the commission. Ultimately, the commission reported its opposition, but county officials said that if the state was going to force consolidation, local officials requested almost $30 million to build a new countywide high school.

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, asked for a delay Thursday for local officials to present plans in hopes of fending off consolidation. Tollison denied that request, plus Durant Superintendent Edwin Robinson's request to speak to committee members.

"I'm very disappointed," said Robinson, named superintendent in July. "We haven't been duplicative in our spending. We haven't been wasteful."

Robinson said that under some scenarios, the Durant high school would be closed and students would be bused to Lexington.

Republicans have sought to combine school districts since then-Gov. Haley Barbour commissioned a 2010 report on the issue. Since then, bills have merged or sought to merge 7 of 14 districts that report focused on, as well as others.

Districts merged earlier include: Drew, Indianola and Sunflower County; Benoit, Shaw and West Bolivar; Mound Bayou and North Bolivar; Clay County and West Point; and Starkville and Oktibbeha County.

Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, said she favored merging Winona, Carroll County and Montgomery County because she believes a combined district would be able to build one large high school in Winona, improving offerings.

"The high school was old when I graduated from Winona," Chassaniol said.

She said Selim Bassoul, CEO of the parent company of Greenwood's Viking Range, has offered to raise private money for a new school. She said just merging Montgomery County and Winona wouldn't increase the size of the district enough because Montgomery County has only 273 students.

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