School consolidation bill eyes Okolona/Chickasaw

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By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

 

JACKSON – Four Northeast Mississippi school districts would be consolidated under legislation proposed by Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford.

Amory and Aberdeen would be merged, while the Okolona and Chickasaw County districts would be consolidated in Mayo’s proposal, which consolidates 21 districts into 11.

He conceded Tuesday the legislation is not likely to pass this year. He introduced the same legislation during the previous two sessions.

He joked that he is approaching consolidation “whole hog” while other legislators are doing it “nickel and dime, and right now nickel and dime is winning.”

In the past two sessions, West Point and Clay County have been consolidated and Oktibbeha and Starkville have been put on a path toward consolidation. Plus, districts in Bolivar and Sunflower counties have merged.

Mayo said he is proposing the consolidation plan recommended by consultants hired by a task force created by then-Gov. Haley Barbour in 2010. Barbour proposed reducing the then-154 school districts (including three agriculture high schools) by a third to save money.

“This is a way to get more money out of administration and into the classroom” while improving academic performance, Mayo said. He stressed that the consolidation would be of districts and not of schools. Whether any schools would be merged would be up to the local governing boards. Mayo said he believes school mergers would be unlikely.

The Colorado-based consultant hired by Barbour’s task force, John Augenblick, found that the consolidation would not save state funds but could reduce local spending on administration.

Rep. Chris Brown, R-Aberdeen, said he does not believe consolidation would work for Aberdeen and Amory.

“Those are two separate communities with two separate taxing districts. I don’t know how that would work,” he said. He said he supports saving money but questioned how much savings would come from consolidation.

“If two districts want to merge, let the local people work it out,” Brown sad. “I am not in favor of forcing it on them.”

Sen. Russell Jolly, D-Houston, said he does not believe the local people would support consolidation in Chickasaw County so he would be hesitant to support it.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves predicted before the session began that more school district consolidation would occur.

Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, has filed seven separate bills dealing with consolidation. They would merge Perry County and Richton; Carroll and Montgomery counties with Winona; merge Amite and Wilkinson counties; Holmes County and Durant; Kemper and Noxubee counties; Leflore County and Greenwood; Claiborne and Jefferson counties.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

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