Consolidation: from Latin consolidaire meaning together + to make solid
Noone expected it.
In January 2013, when a state representative from Hattiesburg introduced Mississippi House Bill 716 which mandated the consolidation of the Starkville School District and the Oktibbeha County School Distict, it took the entire Starkville community by surprise. The unexpected legislation blind-sided city and county school constituents and left many feeling discounted and overlooked while the fear that is so often associated with the words “school consolidation” gripped those most likely to be directly impacted.
In the days after the bill was introduced, members of local advocacy groups like Parents for Public Schools and PTO contacted lawmakers in an effort to kill the legislation, citing that a historically “failing” school system would invariably bring down the quality and achievement of its non-failing counterpart. It was a knee-jerk and predictable reaction. But that didn’t make it right.
As lawmakers dug in and began meeting with administrators and stakeholders in the Starkville School District, it became clear that the legislation would proceed and that the two districts would indeed consolidate. The focus of those parent advocacy groups moved to how the consolidation would happen and to ensuring that the new district was positioned for success. Somewhere in that process, everything shifted.
The state had mandated for the first time that a school district with a successful rating was to be consolidated with one placed in conservatorship by the MS Department of Education for failing to meet numerous accreditation standards. A consolidation like that had never happened before, and it was about to happen here. As that seed of history and significance sunk deep into the process, it sprouted the beginnings of a vision for what this consolidation could really mean for the future of Starkville. As stakeholders and advocates laid aside fear and territorial mindsets, the real questions that would color this process began to emerge. What positive impact could this consolidation truly have on the WHOLE community of Starkville and Oktibbeha County? If we worked together, how could this consolidation finally address the conundrum of unequal opportunities provided to our young students living just a few miles apart? How could the largest university in the state successfully engage and partner with the public school district so vital to it’s own future growth? How could this consolidation serve as an example and a model for true progress in public education across the state? How could Starkville position itself at the forefront of that progress?
What if we, as one community, really embraced in practice the notion that each child living in Starkville and Oktibbeha County is OUR child to educate and nurture with the resources a public school system should rightly provide? If ONE could mean ALL — in economic burden and it’s resulting achievement opportunity — what could our community accomplish?
The prospect of consolidating a successful school district with a failing one for the first time meant that business as usual just wasn’t acceptable. It was clear that the path of a standard administrative consolidation used in so many other districts around the state would simply not be adequate to achieve true success in Starkville. Parent advocates and school district stakeholders organized an effort to persuade legislators to approve a groundbreaking change in how this consolidation would be constructed. Parent groups called for the formation of a community-centered, non-political body that would explore needs, entertain solutions and develop a recommended plan for implementing the consolidation.
The Commission on Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School Structure was created when House Bill 716 was passed during the 2013 legislative session. It was the first of its kind in the state. As outlined in the legislation, the Commission was a 7-member panel consisting of representatives Mississippi State University, MDE, SSD and OCSD.
Over a 9-month period, from May 2013 to January 2014, the Commission held a series of 16 meetings which were open to the public, as well as two public hearings where public comments were made. In addition to those public meetings, various Commission members participated in their official capacity as appointees in two Twitter Town Hall meetings sponsored by PPS and GSDP and one question/answer panel sponsored by the Education Association of East Oktibbeha County Schools.
The plan that emerged through the work of the Commission revealed one core value that must be upheld if consolidation in Starkville is to be successful. A solid foundation for the future cannot be attained unless equality and fairness are achieved. ONE consolidated district means that all must work together and all must reap the opportunity that effort provides. ALL the citizens of Starkville and Oktibbeha County must shoulder an equitable burden of financial responsibility for educating our children. ALL our schools must attain an equitable level of resources, technology and facilities afforded by that stewardship. ALL our students must share equally in the full measure of opportunity our stewardship provides.
Starkville is at a pivotal point in our story of consolidation. With the eyes of Mississippi focused on this experimental process, the results of our efforts remain to be seen. Can we truly accomplish the vision of shared and equitable responsibilities — shared and equitable opportunities? We believe the first step toward “shared and equitable” is the Oktibbeha County School District bonds we have on the table.
This is the one moment in history when we are able to build the best for our children — a $30 million facility that takes advantage of every resource a major research university can provide — for the price of only $10 million in local funding. And, don’t we want to build them the best? This is the only season of our consolidation process when we have the opportunity to redeem the disparity created when a school district barely funded shares the same geography with a district funded to the point of capacity. If we miss this opportunity now, it will be decades before this same level of local funding will be available again.
So, right now we have a chance to write our own ending, rather than have it written for us by same-old, same-old political maneuverings or a history doomed to repeat itself. The pen is, quite literally, in-hand.
Will you sign a reverse petition and help us write the ending ALL our children deserve?
Reverse petitions may be dropped off at the Greater Starkville Development Office or mailed to 200 East Main Street, Starkville, MS 39759.