JACKSON — State education officials could only take over a school district for three years under a bill moving forward in the Senate.
The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 2124, sponsored by Sen. Steve Hale, D-Senatobia. The bill goes to the Senate for more debate.
Hale says that it should be clearer what has to be done for a district to return to local control when the state takes a school district into what’s known as conservatorship. The sitting superintendent is fired and local school boards either lose their power or are abolished.
Hale cited the Tate County school district, which the state has been running for four years.
“I think a takeover of a school district is a very traumatic event for a community,” Hale said
The state currently controls seven other districts beyond Tate County — Aberdeen, Hazlehurst, Indianola, North Panola, Okolona, Oktibbeha County and Sunflower-Drew.
Hale’s measure says a takeover couldn’t last longer than three years, unless the governor grants an extension.
“I feel like we need to make a better effort to get in these districts, do the work, and get it turned around,” he said.
It also says the governor must name specific reason when declaring a state of emergency and the state Board of Education must name specific exit criteria when a takeover starts.
Criteria for returning to local control would include: improved academic performance as measured by state tests, clean audits for two years, state loans being repaid on time, a positive financial balance for two years, established parent-teacher councils and compliance with all accreditation standards.
Residents and teachers can petition for the end of conservatorship, but a district would not be released from state control with residents’ petition. That provision found favor with Sen. Russell Jolly, D-Houston. He said some residents in the Okolona district, which is in the process of returning to local control, are unhappy that the district is still rated “F” on the state’s grading system.
“They would like (the state) to keep it there until they get it to at least a ‘C,'” Jolly said.
The bill sets into law that when a district is returning to local control, the state would keep the conservator in place for a year and that official would get a veto over board actions.