Supes educated on district mergers
by Chance Wright
Nov 21, 2012 | 2758 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By request of the Bolivar County Board of Supervisors, Interim Deputy Superintendent for the Mississippi Department of Education Mike Kent attended the meeting to discuss misconceptions on the legislation to consolidate the five school districts in the county.

"We have asked Mr. Kent to come here today and share with us any information related to the consolidation of school districts within the county," said Williams. "There are a lot of myths, fables or rumors about the merger and we want to be sure that we know how it is going to affect us."

Prior to giving his report Kent filled the board in on S.B. 2760, the piece of legislation signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant on May 22, that requires the administrative consolidation in any county with more than five separate school districts to merge into no more than three.

During his outline Kent said that at a recent event hosted by the MDE for school district officials affected by the bill, those attending commented on the physical closing of schools.

"The first thing that I would like to point out here is that this is strictly an administrative consolidation," said Kent. "It is not a consolidation of school buildings nor will any physical school building locations be closing.

"This bill does not address the closing of any schools," he continued. "The bottom line is that you are going from five school districts in the county down to two."

Kent said that North Bolivar School district will merge administratively with Mound Bayou School District and West Bolivar School District will merge with Shaw and Benoit School Districts.

The Cleveland School District will remain as it was prior to the passing of the legislation.

Kent said the date that the board of supervisors should "probably be aware of" is July 1, 2014.

"That's the magic date," Kent added. "That is the date that it becomes official.

"Under the legislation, you will go from having 25 school board members down to 10 board members," Kent continued. "And, of course, you will go from five superintendents to two superintendents."

He said that the MDE and the Secretary of State's Office has set a November 2013 tentative date to hold a special election where a new, countywide board would be comprised.

"Five school board members would come from the newly formed North Bolivar School District and five would come from the newly formed West Bolivar School Districts"

However, it was made clear all district boards would be active and would set policy at their individual schools until that July 1, 2014, date.

"State statute places all the decision making powers in the hands of the existing board," he said.

According to the numbers presented by the MDE, after the consolidation occurs the North Bolivar School District would be comprised of approximately 1,265 students and the West Bolivar School District have approximately 1,689 students.

Kent moved further into the legislation to explain that the law, as was signed by Bryant, specifies that the central office to the new North Bolivar School District would be placed in Mound Bayou.

In the West Bolivar District, it would be placed in Shelby.

However, Kent said, according to Mississippi Code, a school board for a particular school district can vote to move that central office to any location that they so choose.

This decision could be made as early as July 14, 2014, when the new school boards meet.

Supervisors James McBride and Williams voiced their concerns on how these school boards would be elected and what role the county board would play in the process.

"Line 70 of the legislation states that PEER will lead the redistricting efforts in support of the MDE and the secretary of state," explained Kent. "This board will not play a role in the drawing of the voting lines and voters will only be allowed to vote for the board representatives based on where they live."

Kent added that in early January the MDE would be coming to Bolivar County to host community town hall meetings to answer questions and here concerns. Those dates have yet to be set in stone.

Kent said that while they wanted to hear the thoughts and concerns of the public, they also want to point out that the MDE did not submit this bill or anything similar to this bill to the legislature.

"We were just chosen as the agency to ensure that the law was carried out and enforced," he concluded.

Once voting lines have been approved by PEER and the MDE they must be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.

The Bolivar Commercial will have more on the issue as well as the dates and times of the MDE town hall meetings when they become available.