Commission to hear from public about proposed school consolidation

STARKVILLE — A commission looking at the possible consolidation of the Starkville and Oktibbeha County schools will hear from the public on Aug. 22.

The Commission on Starkville/Oktibbeha Consolidated School District also must prepare a report for the Mississippi Legislature by March 1, 2014. The results of the study are not binding.

House Bill 716, passed by lawmakers this year and signed by the governor, created the consolidation committee and charged it with delivering a report on how to successfully join the two school systems.

The law includes an amendment allowing the panel to also look at the viability of joining outlying county schools with their closest counterparts in an adjoining county. Those counties would be Choctaw, Clay, Lowndes and Webster.

The law calls for unifying the school systems in July 2015.

The two school systems within Oktibbeha County educate about 5,250 students combined. Fewer than 1,000 schoolchildren attend the county schools.

If the Legislature and the Mississippi Department of Education agree to move one or multiple OCSD schools to a neighboring school district, transportation and funding issues would need to be resolved.

Some local school officials have questioned what role the U.S. Department of Justice would play in consolidation. Both school districts are under federal desegregation orders that date back to the 1970s.

In the mid- to late-1960s, school districts across the South were sued for discrimination and given desegregation orders, which put them under the scrutiny of the Justice Department. A dozen or more school systems in Mississippi have petitioned the federal courts to come out from under such orders.

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