Senate passes school merger
by Chance Wright
Feb 09, 2012 | 2666 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Over the past several years the three school districts that make up the Sunflower County education system have endured their fair share of problems.

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Senate voted, by majority vote of 43-4, to pass a bill that would merger the Indianola, Sunflower and Drew school districts into one.

Senate Bill 2330 now moves to the House for further consideration.

Sen. Derrick T. Simmons (D-12th), who represents Washington and portions of Bolivar County, voted against the merger while Sen. Willie Simmons was absent and did not cast a vote.

Sen. Eugene "Buck" Clark, who represents portions of Bolivar, Humphreys, Sharkey, Washington and Yazoo Counties, voted for the merger.

Upon clearing the house, the bill would require the state to appoint a superintendent and a new board of trustees would have to be elected.

The bill also says that, "any superintendent of the former underperforming school districts shall not be eligible for appointment as the new countywide superintendent.

Since 2009 all three districts in Sunflower County have been taken over by the state and put under the conservatorship of the Mississippi Department of Education.

The Indianola School District was the first because during that school year the district didn't have enough money to make payroll.

The Sunflower County School District, which includes the public school system in Ruleville, followed suit when the state took over citing allegations ranging from sexual assault on school grounds to the misuse of federal dollars.

Then just last year the state was forced to take action on the Drew School District.

In the initial process, the Senate cited a complaint from a concerned parent that said, "The Drew School District is not fit to administer even the most basic education."

Reasons for the take over there ranged from a lack of community-based support of the education system as a whole to an increasing amount of gang violence on school grounds.

Section one of the proposed bill says: "In any Mississippi County in which is located three school districts, all of which are under the conservatorship as defined by the Mississippi Department of Education, there shall be an administrative consolidation of all of the school districts in the county into one countywide district with one county board of education."

Senate Education Committee Chairman Gary Tollison, who also authored the bill, told senators that the consolidation of the Sunflower County School Districts would save the local taxpayers $1.2 million a year in administrative costs.

Consolidation has been discussed for years between the state legislature and the MDE, but there has been little political will to force mergers in areas where high-performing districts are near lower-performing ones.

Mississippi has 82 counties and 152 school districts.