- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A plan for a new statewide school district to take control of faltering local schools and districts is on its way to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk after House and Senate members agreed on it Tuesday.

House Bill 989 authorizes the state Board of Education to create an alternative school district and hire a superintendent, who would act under the board’s oversight.

The achievement school district would take over schools rated F for two straight years or any district rated F for two of three years. Ratings for the 2015-2016 school year, yet to be released, will begin to determine which schools qualify for takeover. There are no F-rated districts under the previous ratings, which allowed districts to use their best rating from one of the two previous years

Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, who has been pushing for the proposal, again said that Mississippi’s current system of takeovers, called conservatorship, isn’t working. The state has usually assumed control because a district is financially broke, driven by political conflict between school board members and a superintendent, or violated state accrediting standards.

“The conservatorship model has never been successful in Mississippi. It’s a Band-Aid approach, and we’re looking for something better,” he said.

A school would remain under state control at least until it scores a C rating or better for five years. Busby’s original proposal had required parents and teachers to vote before a school or district could be returned to local control, but the final version removed that requirement, leaving the decision entirely up to the state Board of Education. Busby said he would ask the state board to impose such requirements by administrative rules. The board could choose methods other than a traditional school board to return a district to local control, including letting a mayor run schools.

Schools or districts could be run by charter school operators approved by the existing Charter School Authorizer Board, and they would be exempt from being returned to local control.

Some opposition centered on lack of local input under the plan. Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said the achievement school district superintendent would be a “czar” who didn’t have to listen to local people.

“We’ll have no board once he or she is appointed to control his or her actions,” Blackmon said.

Busby, though, questioned the value of local control of faltering districts.

“If we’ve got leadership that’s leading children down a path where they get an F two years in a row, I don’t know how much advice they have that would be worth hearing,” he said.

Others asked whether any model would succeed as long as Mississippi isn’t funding schools to the level demanded by its school-funding formula.

“We’re still headed in three or four different directions to improve education but bottom line, we have not put the resources there,” said Sen David Jordan, D-Greenwood.


Online: House Bill 989: https://bit.ly/1QylGjY


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

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