Legislature aims to change school conservatorship process

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The House and Senate both approved bills changing the state’s school district conservator law on Tuesday.

Under current law, when a state of emergency is declared in a school district, the state Board of Education appoints a conservator to take over the district. There are no specific requirements or time limits for a district to be able to regain local control except for clearing all of its accreditation standards.

Under House Bill 875, however, “interim superintendent” would replace the title of conservator, which the Mississippi Department of Education and some lawmakers have said has a negative stigma attached to it. The bill also would require school districts to maintain a C or higher accreditation rating for five years before being released from state control.

An amendment adopted by the Senate Education Committee also would allow the state Board of Education to decide at any time if the district is eligible to return to local control before the five-year period is over and regardless of whether accreditation reaches a C level.

Gil Ford PHotography

Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune

Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, said she worried about the language in the bill.

“I have concerns that when you have a bill that says they have to have a C rating for five years consecutively, there’s no provision in there that says the state couldn’t control the district forever. Would that not concern you that we wouldn’t put a time limit in there?” Hill asked Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford.

Gil Ford photography

Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford

“The intent of this, as I explained, is to go deeper and install best practices. I don’t think they want to be there any longer than they have to be,” Tollison replied. “They don’t have the resources to be there too long.”

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, asked how a new school board would be created once the district is returned to local control. Tollison explained it would be the same process as it was before the state takeover.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 2431, passed the House by a vote of 79-36.

  • Charles Pearce

    Next on the agenda: conservatorship process for a failing Mississippi Legislature.