By Alex Holloway
Starkville Daily News
STARKVILLE — The Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure met Sept. 5 and decided it best to keep Oktibbeha County’s children in Oktibbeha.
The seven-member commission met with representatives from school districts in the six counties that border Oktibbeha County to discuss the feasibility of those districts absorbing students that live close to them. However, the distance and other districts’ own struggles would create issues that make some prospects unworkable.
The commission is part of the consolidation process for Oktibbeha County and Starkville school districts, which began earlier this year when Gov. Phil Bryant approved House Bill 716, which called for the two districts to merge in July 2015. The commission was tasked with preparing a report to submit to the Mississippi Legislature by March.
Jack Treloar, superintendent of the Webster County School District – the district with the closest schools to Oktibbeha County – declined the invitation to take additional students.
“We respectfully decline the opportunity to take these students,” Treloar said. “Right now, we’re in the process of finishing up construction on a building at our school at East Webster that was destroyed by a tornado back in 2011.”
Treloar said that, though several East Webster schools were close to Maben, the district was nearly maxed out in student capacity. He said the school the district was building to replace the destroyed one was the same square footage as the one it lost, and would not help with capacity issues.
He also said the district – which hadn’t purchased a new school bus in five years – was in poor shape financially and experiencing a budget shortfall.
“At the present time, it would be a true burden on Webster County Schools,” he said.
Treloar said a mill in Webster County was worth $50,000. Commission member and Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said a mill in Oktibbeha County was worth $65,000.
When asked, commission member and Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway said a mill in Starkville was worth $300,000.
Holloway suggested proximity of the East Webster schools to some of the students west Oktibbeha might better serve the students.
“It’s like 19 miles from Maben to Starkville,” he said. “Yet it’s only going to be 6.3 to your high school. And I guess if anything, looking at these maps, what makes sense is that students would be better served if they traveled six miles, rather than traveling the 20-something miles coming in to Starkville.”
Treloar said he believed Starkville was ideally located in the center of the county to take on extra students. Holloway said Starkville didn’t have the capacity in some grades to do so.
“It would appear to me that if you have millage of $300,000 that you could create some type of capacity,” Treloar said. “I mean, I’m sorry. You don’t understand what it’s like to be poor.”
Mike Thomas, president of the Choctaw County School Board, said his district, which recently went through restructuring, was just about maxed out.
Lynn Wright, Lowndes County School District superintendent, said the West Lowndes County schools had capacity, and taking Oktibbeha County students could be possible.
Noxubee County Superintendent Kevin Jones said his district could not take Oktibbeha students because of distance.
Mae Brewer and Burnell McDonald, superintendents of the Clay County and West Point School districts, respectively, also declined.
Ken McMullan, superintendent of the Louisville School District, said his district had capacity and was receptive to the possibility of taking students. Distance, however, was an important factor with the Louisville schools.
After considering what options they had with the other school districts, the commission members turned to keeping Oktibbeha County students in the county.