The Mississippi State Board of Education on Thursday began the process of returning the Tunica County School District to the community in 2024.

Tunica was placed under state control through the “District of Transformation” model in 2015, after an audit found “serious deficiencies” in special education, federal programs, instructional programs, career technical education and district governance, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Margie Pulley was named interim superintendent when the takeover occurred.

Schools are placed in the this model when two state entities, the Commission on School Accreditation and Board of Education, both declare an extreme emergency situation exists in a district and the governor subsequently signs a declaration of a state of emergency. The districts lose their school boards and are instead overseen by the state Board of Education. The state board also replaces the acting superintendent with a new one of its choosing. 

The state has taken over school districts 21 times since 1996. Currently, the Noxubee County School District and Holmes County School District are under state control in this model, and the Yazoo City and Humphreys County school districts are under state control in the Achievement School District. The ASD is similar but places schools under state control for poor academic performance, whereas the District of Transformation model is for districts with accreditation violations.

To be released, a district must earn an accountability grade of C or higher for five consecutive years. In a presentation to the board, interim State Superintendent Mike Kent said “we are confident” the district will have achieved that after this academic year and requested the board allow MDE to begin searching for new school board members to eventually serve the district.

“We’re looking at an 18-month period of time where we seek board members and try to train them, and then hopefully at the end of 2023 we have the Tunica County School District in a position where we can hand it off with the best possible chance of success,” Kent said.

The state board approved, and now MDE will seek out board members to serve the school district in an “advisory capacity” under Pulley until the end of 2023, and become full voting members in January 2024. In November 2023, the state board will request the governor lift the state of emergency and return the district to local control in 2024. The new school board will then begin the search for the district’s new superintendent.

This would be the second time Tunica is returned to local control; it was first taken over by the state in 1997, and released in 2002.

Those interested in serving on the school board can complete an application here by July 14.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.