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State senators say yes to school consolidation, but they also want a committee studying the idea to look beyond Starkville and Oktibbeha County to other areas.

Tuesday, the Senate approved legislation establishing a seven-person committee to recommend the best ways to merge Starkville and Oktibbeha County schools starting in August 2015. But the Senate added language to study the feasibility of partnerships with Lowndes or Webster counties.

Parts of East Oktibbeha High School are close to West Lowndes and West Oktibbeha High and East Webster are very close.

The idea originally was discussed 25 years ago but no action ever was taken. Supporters say those ventures could save school districts money on transportation and facilities.

The revised measure must go back to the House for approval.

Meanwhile, the House has followed the Senate’s lead and voted to set up a seven-person committee of local citizens to recommend the best way to merge the West Point and Clay County districts.

State Rep. Gary Chism, a Columbus Republican who represents parts of Oktibbeha and Clay counties, says adopting the same language in both bills is designed to get “everyone on the same page.”

The Clay County bill approved by the House today does not include language extending recommendations beyond Clay County’s borders.

Many legislators have said the West Point-Clay merger would be easier because Clay County has only one elementary school with about 170 students. The remaining Clay County students already attend elementary, middle or high school in the West Point School District.

The Clay bill must return to the Senate for agreement.

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