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Bryant clears way for Scott County school takeover

- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi officials are taking over the Scott County school district after all.

Gov. Phil Bryant issued a proclamation Tuesday declaring an emergency in the 4,200-student district, clearing the way for the state Board of Education to appoint Mike Vinson as conservator.

Bryant had earlier rejected a request for the state to take over the district. But the state Board of Education on Friday changed its policy to allow the state to seize control of a district without automatically limiting high school sports and extracurricular activities by revoking accreditation. Board members said they had never envisioned taking over a high-rated school district when they adopted the policy. Scott County has a "B'' grade under the state's rating system.

"His priority all along was he didn't want to penalize the parents and the students for something that wasn't their fault," Webb said of Bryant's initial refusal.

The state board also asked Bryant on Friday to again declare a state of emergency, although the board didn't put the action on its advance agenda or discuss it in public before voting. Board members also voted to downgrade Scott County's accreditation to probation in the same action, the new option they gave themselves.

"The emergency hasn't changed in our opinion," said state school board Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth.

Scott County school board members and Superintendent Bingham Moncrief agreed to resign to avert a takeover. Two reports issued by the Mississippi Department of Education found Moncrief ruled through intimidation, flouting state rules, and local board members took the unusual step of calling for state intervention.

Tuesday's action means that the district will no longer have an elected superintendent after it emerges from state control. It also means school board members could never again seek those offices.

When asked whether the board asked again for a takeover to permanently end elections of a superintendent, Gann said that reasoning was "on target."

Stays by conservators have typically lasted for years, but Gann said he didn't think the state would be running Scott County for that long.

"I would not think so and I would hope not," he said.

Since 2012, state policy has limited schools to only half an athletic season as soon as accreditation was revoked, which had happened automatically when the state takes over a district and installs a conservator to run it. District games are allowed, but not playoffs.

Cheerleading, dance squads, speech and debate, chorus and band can participate in district or state contests, but can't get ratings, in unaccredited districts.

The Scott County Central girls' basketball team is currently trying to defend its 2013 2A state title in the playoffs. The team is led by Victoria Vivians, Mississippi's all-time leading scorer in girls' high school basketball.

Webb denied Bryant was trying to protect Vivians.

"That was never his priority," she said.

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