Commission Formed to Recommend Consolidation in Mississippi


Last Updated: January 28, 2010
 

This article appeared in the January 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, embroiled in a battle over education funding cuts (see “Education Spending…”), has formed a commission to set up standards and priorities for the State Board of Education to use to select school districts to consolidate.
 
In announcing the formation of the Commission on Mississippi Education Structure, Barbour declared that the state’s 152 districts were too many for its 82 counties and that reducing the number of districts to 100 would save $65 million dollars. He did not detail how those savings could be achieved.
 
The Commission, whose members were appointed by Barbour, is not charged with determining whether consolidation would produce savings or improve educational outcomes. It is tasked only with presenting recommendations for choosing districts for elimination and for calculating projected savings.
 
Concern that the Commission will operate on an uninvestigated assumption that consolidation will save money and improve education is mounting. State representative Cecil Brown, Chair of the House Education Committee and Co-Chair of The Task Force to Study Under Performing Schools and School Districts (a separate legislatively sponsored group), wrote in an editorial (http://northsidesun.com/pages/full_story/push?article-School+district+consolidation+not+so+simple%20&id=5071245) that consolidation must be carefully studied. He describes a presentation to the Task Force by Gale Gaines of the Southern Regional Education Board in which Gaines said that district consolidations in the 17-state consortium had not historically saved money and that educational performance levels of larger districts after consolidation were often lower than those of the separate districts prior to consolidation.
 
A number of issues related to the Commission’s charge are unclear, including what kind of legislative approvals might be required. In addition, there are questions about how school boards, tax bases, and administrations would be combined and how the Commission’s recommendations would affect the work of the underperforming schools task force.
 
At the first meeting of the Commission, earlier this month, Barbour suggested the group focus on districts with academic or financial difficulties. According to Mike Sayer of Southern Echo, Barbour acknowledged community opposition to consolidation and told members they need to provide legislators with political cover for unpopular merger mandates.
 
Serving on the Commission is state superintendent Tom Burnham who has called for greater authority for the State Board of Education to consolidate districts. The Commission includes no parents or representatives of education advocacy groups.
 
A report from the Commission is due April 1.
 
Read more:
 
Governor’s Press Release on Formation of Commission:
Editorial from Cecil Brown:
News coverage:

Read more from the January 2010 Rural Policy Matters.