Board to vote on returning schools to local control

AROUND MISSISSIPPI — Three Mississippi school districts are poised to be returned to local control over the next year.

The three districts — North Panola, Hazlehurst and Tate County — were taken over by the state for failure to meet state standards.

The state Board of Education is likely to vote tomorrow to end the state of emergency in each district, setting the stage for state-appointed conservators to be replaced by local officials.

On Thursday, board members urged local communities to choose school board members and superintendents wisely to prevent problems from recurring.

“I urge them to make sure they elect board members and hire superintendents who can carry this forward to make sure we don’t get back in this situation again,” said Wayne Gann, of Corinth, chairman of the state Board of Education.

The move, if approved, will leave only four districts under state control — Aberdeen, Sunflower-Drew, Indianola and Oktibbeha County. Sunflower-Drew and Indianola are scheduled to be merged into one district in July 2014, after electing a unified school board in November. The Legislature mandated that Oktibbeha County merge with Starkville in July 2015.

The state returned the Okolona district to local control earlier this year.

Tate County was taken over in 2009 after encountering financial trouble. The state loaned the district $1.2 million, of which it has paid back $800,000. The governor will set a special election for five new board members, who will in turn appoint a superintendent.

Hazlehurst was taken over in 2008 after it was found to be violating 34 state accreditation standards. The mayor and aldermen will appoint five new school board members, who will appoint a superintendent. Two of those, representing territory outside the city, will only serve until the next election. Then voters will get a chance to choose.

North Panola also was taken over in 2008 but over leadership concerns, after the state found it violating 22 accreditation standards. The governor will set a special election for five new board members, who will appoint a superintendent.

In all three cases, the board members and superintendents who were ousted by the state will not be eligible to serve again.

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