Construction money sought ahead of consolidation

By The Associated Press | Posted - Dec. 30, 2014 at 6:20 a.m.



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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The Oktibbeha County School District may borrow $13.2 million for construction needs ahead of July's state-mandated consolidation with the Starkville schools.

The school district announced its intent to issue bonds in a legal notice.

The Commercial Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/1vDZPHY ) the school district is planning for a new campus for grades 6-7 and a pre-kindergarten program at Mississippi State University.

The Legislature, which convenes Jan. 6, also may be asked for money.

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. Margie Pulley was named conservator in January 2013.

The state has since ordered Oktibbeha schools to consolidate with the Starkville School District by July 2015.

A petition signed by 20 percent of registered Oktibbeha County voters, roughly 2,000 people, could force an election in 2015 if it is presented to the circuit clerk by noon on Jan. 13. If the matter goes unchallenged, Pulley has authority to issue the bonds.

State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus and a member of the House Education Committee, said lawmakers may open up the Mississippi Department of Education's public school building fund as a revenue option.

Chism said the lawmaker who originally filed the Starkville-Oktibbeha County merger bill two years ago, state Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, may file another piece of legislation that, if approved, will allow districts under consolidation mandates to have first crack at the public school building fund.

That stockpile, Chism said, has about $20 million in it, but school districts across the state are also looking for additional funding.

The 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.

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

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The Associated Press

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