AROUND MISSISSIPPI — Three Mississippi school districts have moved one step closer to a state takeover.
The state Accrediting Commission recommended yesterday that states of emergency be declared in the Claiborne County, LeFlore County and Yazoo City school districts.
The state would take over the district if the state Board of Education approves the recommendation Friday and Gov. Phil Bryant declares an emergency. If Bryant moves forward, the state board would then appoint a conservator to run each district.
All three districts argue they shouldn’t be taken over. Leflore County and Yazoo City are both pleading for more time to implement turnaround plans to remedy failing grades for the school and district.
The state currently controls seven districts — Aberdeen, Sunflower-Drew, Indianola, Oktibbeha County, North Panola, Hazlehurst and Tate County. The state is moving to return the latter three to local control.
Under current law, any district taken over by the state also would lose its accreditation, meaning districts can play only half their regular-season high school athletic games and can’t participate in playoffs. It does not affect a high school student’s chance of being admitted into college.
If Bryant declares emergencies, officials could quickly appoint conservators, removing current superintendents and school boards. Elected superintendents are usually permanently changed to appointed posts. School board members at the time of a takeover are barred from ever serving again after a district is returned to local control.
In Claiborne County, the state says school board members try to micromanage elected Superintendent Elijah Brown.
“It appears the superintendent is not granted executive authority to operate the school district on a day-to-day basis without interference from the school board,” said Paula Vanderford, who heads accreditation for the state Department of Education.
School board president Josie McClorine denied interfering. “I have never tried to micromanage the superintendent in any way,” she told the commission.
Brown, a minister, gave a religious-tinged defense, saying he believed in miracles.
“We pray each and every day that we will not go into captivity, that we will not go into conservatorship, that we will not go into unaccreditation,” he said.
In Yazoo City, Vanderford told commission members that they needed to approve a takeover because Yazoo City High School has earned a failing rating for three straight years, a situation that calls for a takeover under state law. Last year, the state decided it had to take over the Oktibbeha County district because one of its two high schools was in the same situation, and a workable way to take control of just one school doesn’t exist.
Yazoo City has, in recent years, recorded some of the lowest scores in the state on standardized tests.
Of 171 current high school seniors, 59 haven’t passed two or more of the four subject-area tests that are required before a student can graduate from high school, a number Vanderford called “alarming.” Most students have taken all four tests at least once by the time they become seniors.
Superintendent Arthur Cartlidge said the district had hired new administrators at most schools and had expanded training opportunities for them since he took over last year. He also said he’d fired and replaced more than half the teachers at the high school.
“We believe that given time, the plans we have in place will result in student achievement in the end,” he said.
Vanderford said Leflore County was recommended for a takeover because all of its schools currently have failing grades.
The takeover was protested by state Rep. Willie Perkins, D-Greenwood, who is the attorney for the district. He demanded a formal legal hearing, but that call was rejected by state officials who said the state could declare an emergency without one.
Perkins also said the district had cleared up all of the standards that an audit found it violated. Vanderford, though, said the district has only completely fixed five of 27 standard violations.