COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI)- Charter schools will be the hot topic when the Legislature convenes in January.
But some education experts say consolidating school districts might be the more efficient option in the long run.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy. Even under the best of circumstances, consolidating school districts can take months or even longer. The school districts first have to agree to come together.
State Representative Jeff Smith, a legislator and a lawyer who represents a school district, says consolidating schools is a lengthy process.
“First step is the districts would vote to unite, then it’s presented to the public. If the public gets 1,500 names on the ballot, it will be voted on and if they vote yes, it will be presented to the board of education where they decide yes or no,” says Smith.
In many cases, the public is often divided.
“Often consolidation has nothing to do with logic or economics or education. It’s often a whole lot more, like issues of the heart. Like, for instance, the county school district here has been in existence since the 1840s, same with Columbus. You usually have people who identify with one of the schools, like New Hope, Caledonia, West Lowndes and Columbus High. And if you unite then you obviously are going to eliminate some of those schools and buildings. So it’s often sentiment more than it’s rational thought,” Smith.
Besides sentiment, other issues get in the way. City and county districts must decide how to divide up money, how everyone will pay an equal share and even what school mascots will survive. All of those issues have been raised in the five weeks since consolidation began to be discussed between Starkville and Oktibbeha County after the county district was taken over by the state.
“Rationally, sometimes, especially like the city of Starkville and Oktibbeha County or clay county, and west point where consolidation has taken place, it makes good sense but sometimes it’s not what people want to do or what they do. It’s like I always tell people in my law practice and since I’ve been in legislature. What’s legal and what’s right is not always the same thing,” says Smith.
Winston, Choctaw and Webster counties are among the only areas in the region that have one school district.