- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A bill that would change all public school district superintendents to appointees advanced out of committee Friday in the Mississippi House.

Senate Bill 2438 would require local school boards to appoint superintendents after their current terms ends, including those positions filled in the November 2015 general election. The bill passed the House Education Committee without contention.

The measure would eliminate the election of school superintendents in all districts - 55 of the state’s 144 school districts still do so. Terms for appointed superintendents would last a maximum of four school years, the same as for elected superintendents now.

The majority of school districts in Mississippi support the measure because it would allow them to pick from a larger pool of candidates, according to Mississippi School Boards Association spokesman Paul Chamblee.

“Right now, those school districts are limited to people who have to be qualified for the job, live within the school district’s boundaries and then decide to run for superintendent,” he said. “This gives districts more options.”

That flexibility is especially important for small school districts in rural areas, said Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who authored the bill.

“We can look across district lines to find qualified football coaches, but we’re limited when it comes to superintendents?” he said.

He said the bill would keep elected superintendents from focusing on re-election near the end of term rather than what’s best for students.

“We need to as much as we can to remove politics from education,” he said.

Meanwhile, the school boards that appoint superintendents would still be elected to give district residents representation, he said.

Tollison said many school districts that still elect superintendents, including his home district of Panola County, have already sought to change to appointed superintendents on their own.

“This is something many schools want, and it’s happening piecemeal already,” he said.

The bill now moves to the full House for more debate. It previously passed the Senate 40-9.

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ALSO AT THE CAPITOL

The Mississippi House Education Committee passed two bills to consolidate three school districts. The bills passed out of the committee Friday.

Committee Chairman Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, said the state consolidates schools that are either struggling financially or severely underperforming academically.

Senate Bill 2495 would require Montgomery County and Winona School Districts to consolidate into one school district.

Rep. Toby Barker of Hattiesburg said Winona would effectively absorb Montgomery’s two schools. Of the five members in the new consolidated school board, four would come from Winona because it would make up 80 percent of the consolidated district’s enrollment, he said. The deadline for consolidation was set for July 1, 2017.

Senate Bill 2500 would require the Lumberton Public School District to dissolve into the neighboring school districts of Lamar County School District and Poplarville School District.

Barker said that under the bill the three school districts have until July 1, 2017, to come up with an agreement on how to consolidate.

Both bills go to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.

The committee also passed a bill that would allow charter schools to enroll students across district lines.

Charter schools are operated by nonprofit groups separate from other public schools. Senate Bill 2161 would allow them to enroll students from other districts but require them to give enrollment preference to underserved students.

The bill would also allow charter schools to locate in districts with a C academic rating without approval from local school boards. Charter schools currently need local permission to open in districts rated A to C.

Charter school employees would qualify for the state public employee retirement system under the bill.

The bill moves to the full House for more debate.

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