- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Oktibbeha County workers are starting to verify the names on petition presented by organizers hoping to force an election on a proposed $13.2 million bond issue for the county school district.

If more than 1,526 qualified voters signed the petition, school district Conservator Margie Pulley will be unable to move forward with the bond without approval from 60 percent of the electorate within the school district. If the petition fails, Pulley has authority to issue the bonds.

The Commercial Dispatch reports (https://bit.ly/1IpGQsI ) petition organizer Denny Daniels brought stacks of signatures to county circuit clerk’s office Monday, beginning the verification process.

Hamilton estimated the petition drive netted about 1,800 signatures.

The state placed the county school district under conservatorship in September 2012, primarily due to low student academic achievement, and removed the superintendent and the board. Pulley was named conservator in January 2013.

The state has since ordered Oktibbeha schools to consolidate with the Starkville School District by this July.

A merger study commission’s original report to lawmakers asked for $9 million specifically to build the grades 6-7 school and up to $8 million for construction and operation of a joint MSU-school district pre-kindergarten facility and program. The commission also sought a five-year, $1 million funding stream for the pre-kindergarten program’s operation.

MSU aims to use the new facilities for instructional demonstration and teaching efforts that will not only advance Oktibbeha County and university students, but also teachers from across the state.

Officials previously said the MSU-consolidated school district partnership will allow the two entities to open the pre-kindergarten program to all 4-year-olds in Oktibbeha County, and the university is expected to expand Pre-K opportunities across the state by 2025.

The Starkville-Oktibbeha CSD 6-7th Grade Partnership School is expected to serve 900 students.

According to planners, a 43-acre site on the MSU campus near the Mississippi Highway 182 main entrance has been chosen for what will be designated The Partnership School. Funding to construct and equip the nearly 102,000-square-foot facility currently is being sought from the Mississippi Legislature, as well as other sources.

The consolidation plan calls for the continuance of four elementary schools in their current locations, moving all eighth- and ninth-graders to Starkville’s Armstrong Middle School and establishing Starkville High School as the learning center for all city and county 10th-12th classes.

“The Partnership School Mississippi State University is committed to continuing our active role as a powerful force for growth and development in Starkville and Oktibbeha County,” MSU President Mark E. Keenum said in a statement. “The vision of this proposed venture is one that will both improve student outcomes and elevate the teaching profession.”

Lewis Holloway, Starkville School District superintendent, said the new school “represents an incredible opportunity for the district and Mississippi State to become stronger, while discovering the most effective educational techniques for students.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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