JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Bills passed Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee would merge the Clay County and West Point school districts and give agricultural high schools in Coahoma and Hinds counties to the county school boards.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said Clay County, the smallest district in the state, spends almost $350,000 on administration. The district had 161 students last year, of which 22 are in optional preschool classes. The district already contracts to send junior high and high school students to West Point, and Senate Bill 2637 would merge Clay into the much larger West Point district.
The committee also approved Senate Bill 2636 to transfer Coahoma Agricultural High School and Hinds Agricultural High School to their respective county school districts. Tollison emphasized that in all cases, it would be up to the local district to decide to keep or close schools after a merger.
But Hinds County Superintendent Stephen Handley wrote in a letter to lawmakers who represent the district that he would close the Hinds AHS.
"At this time, the small population would not make this an economically feasible or educationally responsible option," Handley wrote. The school had 187 students last year.
Handley appealed to lawmakers for the closure to be phased, saying Raymond High School and its 9th grade campus are both at capacity. He asked for a $4 million grant to expand facilities in Raymond. Handley also asked for the state to exclude Hinds AHS students from counting toward Raymond's test results. Hinds AHS posted some of the lowest test scores in the state last year, earning an "F'' grade from the state's rating system.
The move comes a year after lawmakers forced the merger of five Bolivar County districts into two and three Sunflower County districts into one. In those cases, the state said most districts were struggling academically and financially.
But Clay County has the largest cash reserves per student in the state. Its elementary school is rated "B," while all the schools in the West Point district are rated "D'' or "F."
Tollison said that he still thought savings from eliminating administrators were worth it, and that he believed West Point officials would keep West Clay Elementary open.
"It's less cost on administration," he said. "You don't need one superintendent for 125 students. You need a principal."
Coahoma AHS and Clay County officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Senate Bill 2637: http://bit.ly/WsWkW0
Senate Bill 2636: http://bit.ly/11bEf2O
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