By CARL SMITH
Starkville School District Board of Trustees members say they must figure out an appropriate way to handle student transfer requests from parents with children in the county school system after tabling such a request Tuesday.
In lieu of the recent state takeover of Oktibbeha County School District and its associated accreditation issues, District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer sought permission from the city school board to transfer in his children from the county system. Trainer said OCSD Conservator Jayne Sargent previously signed a statement releasing his children to another school district. In order to transfer, both the departing and receiving school systems must sign off on the transfer.
Besides speaking for his own situation, Trainer also brought up the point that other parents in the county could be interested in similar transfer agreements. Sargent has given a verbal statement saying she would allow similar student transfers, SSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway said during Tuesday’s meeting.
In the past 10-15 years, school board attorney Dolton McAlpin said, SSD has typically stood firm against accepting area transfer students, excluding those with special needs that their respective school districts could not accommodate. Any decision to accept transfers based on a lack of county accreditation, he said, would be a policy decision up to the school board.
Holloway warned board members that accepting transfer students could increase costs incurred by the school district. SSD could attempt to receive more funding from the state, but no mechanism is in place to divert more county ad valorem returns to the district.
Although every school board member said guaranteeing children a strong, fundamental path to education is a paramount concern, they all agreed either “Yes” or “No” votes would set a precedent toward future transfer requests the district is not ready to make at this time. By tabling the matter until the board’s next meeting on Dec. 4, school board members say they will analyze the situation to avoid setting an unstudied precedent.
Before the board voted to table the matter, Trainer said he was willing to sit down with Holloway to help develop a scenario to handle future transfers and county educational matters as a whole.
“I wish I could request legal transfer for all children,” Trainer said referring to OCSD’s accreditation issues. “This is by far the No. 1 priority of this community. We don’t want (SSD) to lose track of where it is, but we understand (the transfer situation) is a major item to consider. I think you do have to have a mechanism … for whatever revenues you wouldn’t be able to achieve (by taking in additional county transfer students). Oktibbeha County needs to be willing to commit itself for the long haul.”
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Trainer said he will discuss the situation with fellow supervisors at an upcoming board meeting to make sure everyone is aware of the county’s current educational situation and its ramifications. Supervisors, he said, have a unique opportunity to look at the county’s problem and develop creative ways to solve it. In its current situation, consolidation or a hybrid merger could be a solution, he said, but the county will still have to support any action financially.
“We have a high rate of poverty, one that is higher than anyone probably wants to admit, and that has a ripple effect on quality of life here,” he said. “We can’t stick our heads in the sand and hope the problem fixes itself. We’ve been down this road before, and we still have the same dilemma. I want to see if the board will make education its top priority by showing a sign of support.”
Only one school board member, Eddie Myles, brought up consolidation during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’ve never had any school district lose accreditation like this and bring this situation to our front door,” he said. “In my heart, I’ll always envision that consolidation is possible in Oktibbeha County. When we looked for a superintendent, we saw Lewis Holloway had experience working in a large number of schools. My vision was we got a guy who could take care of a lot of kids and is in position to spearhead leadership.
“I believe in educating all of our kids,” Myles added. “If our county is going to grow, we have to do a better job with kids than we have in the past, and I think it starts with what we do (with the transfer issue).”
Originally, School Board Member Eric Heiselt motioned to deny Trainer’s request, saying the situation was unfortunate, but he rescinded his motion before the board tabled the matter.
“There are a lot of parents waiting to hear about what our decision will be,” he said before Tuesday’s vote. “There are a lot of seniors that will walk in the spring who are now being told they may not have the diploma that will get them into the college they’ve been waiting to get into.”
School Board President Keith Coble also weighed in on the impact a “Yay” or “Nay” vote would create as far as establishing a new district precedent.
“If we screw this up, we could make the long term not happen,” Coble said, referring to growing SSD’s future standards. “I think we’ve got to be very cautious about how we proceed. If we create a fire storm, we will not move forward, we will move backward.”