- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Bills moved forward Wednesday in the Mississippi Legislature that would consolidate 10 school districts and abolish an 11th.

Senators voted to consolidate the Carroll County, Montgomery County and Winona districts into one. They also voted to combine the Chickasaw County, Houston and Okolona districts into one. Finally, senators voted to abolish the Lumberton district and parcel out its territory to the Lamar County and Poplarville districts. Those bills move to the House.

“This is about trying to create capacity on the local level, create a greater size for these local school districts,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, told senators. He says the smallest of Mississippi’s 144 school districts don’t generate enough local revenue and that they need to cut administrative costs by spreading them out over more students.

The House, meanwhile, voted Wednesday to consolidate the Greenwood and Leflore County districts. However, House lawmakers amended their own Chickasaw County consolidation bill to only call for a study committee, raising questions about what will happen with that measure later in the session. Rep. Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona, peeled off 16 Republicans to vote for the amendment along with most Democrats, one of the largest GOP defections so far this year. He said that local community members deserved input.

“If you truly want to make things better in Mississippi, when we propose a sweeping change like this, we ought to get out there and do it ourselves,” Sullivan said.

The House Tuesday voted to combine the Durant and Holmes County school districts even though many local residents told a study committee last year that they also oppose consolidation.

The House bills move to the Senate.

Sen. Russell Jolly, D-Houston, tried to propose an amendment to one Senate bill mandating one school district for each of Mississippi’s 82 counties, saying piecemeal consolidation is unfair.

“If we’re going to do it, we need to go ahead and do it for everyone,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves ruled the amendment wasn’t legal under Senate rules. Tollison acknowledged that lawmakers have to vote for consolidations one at a time to avoid arousing widespread opposition.

“The political reality is this is the way we have done it and been successful,” he said.

Tollison said Wednesday that he intends to ask senators to abolish the Coahoma County Agricultural High School on Thursday, the last day for each chamber to act on its own bills.

Republicans have sought to combine school districts since then-Gov. Haley Barbour commissioned a 2010 report on the issue. Districts merged earlier include Drew, Indianola and Sunflower County; Benoit, Shaw and West Bolivar; Mound Bayou and North Bolivar; Clay County and West Point; and Starkville and Oktibbeha County.

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ALSO AT THE CAPITOL:

__ House members voted 75-45 for House Bill 458, keeping open the possibility that they could rewrite the state’s K-12 education funding formula. The measure currently makes no changes to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which has been shortchanged most years since it was put into law, but lawmakers could still make changes later.

__ Senators voted 40-11 to require political candidates to itemize credit card expenses over $200 on their campaign finance reports. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves ruled that a proposed amendment by Ellisville Republican Chris McDaniel to bar personal use of campaign money was improper under Senate rules. Reeves says he doesn’t oppose such a change.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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