Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford Credit: Gil Ford photography

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.

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.

“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.

Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.