A merger that will strengthen public education to benefit all children

In the Mississippi legislature, there was overwhelming support for merging two schools districts into one district to address the ongoing under achieving performance problem in Oktibbeha County School District. As a result, Mississippi House Bill 716 was introduced to the Mississippi Legislature and called for the consolidation of Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville City School District, a consistently high achieving school district. In recent years several Mississippi school districts had been legislatively consolidated, but the consolidations occurred as a means to reduce the high number of school districts in the state. Most mergers occurred with relative ease due in part to mergers being between districts with similar achievement performance rates. However House Bill 716 proposed merging two districts with different achievement performance rates to address one district’s under achievement performance problem. House Bill 716 was introduced to the Mississippi legislature, even though no notice was provided to the two districts involved in the proposed merger and no input was garnered about the proposed merger from the local communities. As a result, parents and community members expressed frustration, confusion, and anger that they had not been considered, included, and notified of the contents of House Bill 716, which is to begin in the 2015 2016 school year.

The Starkville PPS Chapter identified two strategies to assist and support parents, schools, and communities through this transition: actively providing merger information to alleviate fears of the unknown and prevent exits to private schools; working with legislators to allow communities to shape the merger of the two districts in a way that will strengthen public education to benefit all children in the area.

Starkville PPS organized a letter writing campaign to legislators, made visits to the Capitol, and formed an ad hoc group to brainstorm ideas to develop a plan of action to ensure a beneficial merger. PPS members, school administrators, and community leaders reached out to legislators requesting modifications to House Bill 716 to include local community and school input. The chair of the Senate Education Committee and the Lieutenant Governor met with community members in Starkville. As a result, the merger bill the Governor signed into law underwent substantial changes from the original and included steps to assurances that the community would have the opportunity to help shape the consolidation. Starkville PPS, parents, schools, and community members are working together on a consolidation commission to lay a solid foundation that will ensure a successful merger of two very different school districts, benefiting all children.