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JACKSON, Miss. (WCBI) — The Senate Education Committee has backed down from forcing Oktibbeha County and Starkville school districts to consolidate.

This morning the committee substituted language to create a task force to study ways the two districts could be successful and effective and how to pay for them, although consolidation till would have to occur. The process does allow for more community input than previous language.

“”It’s a shift from being a mandated consolidation to being more of a study committee to determine how the consolidation can place successfully,” said Starkville Schools Superintendent Dr. Lewis Holloway.

The new language replaces wording in a bill approved last month by the House that would force the two school districts to merge by the fall of 2015 without much community input.

The committee would be made up of state superintendent of education, two representatives of the Starkville school district appointed by its school board, two residents of the Oktibbeha County school district, the conservator of the Oktibbeha County district, and a representative from Mississippi State appointed by MSU President Mark Keenum.

If the bill passes, the committee must meet within 30 days of approval of the plan by the U.S. Department of Justice and must report to the Legislature, Governor and the state Board of Education by Jan. 1, 2014.

The bill still calls for the two districts to be consolidated administratively on July 1, 2015 with a new board member being elected from the county whenever the first vacancy on the current Starkville school board occurs after that date.

A Senate-passed bill forcing Clay County and West Point school districts to consolidate is scheduled to be taken up this afternoon by the House Education Committee.

Click here to download entire bill

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