Success with weakest may give solons courage to do consolidation

Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When a Mississippi school district has gotten so bad that it’s under state control, it doesn’t have much leverage.

That’s why the Legislature has finally dipped its toe into the waters of school consolidation, enacting a law that will require the three school districts in Sunflower County to merge in two years.

All three districts — Indianola, Drew and Sunflower County — are presently being run by conservators appointed by the state Board of Education because of chronically low academic performance and other problems. Not only do the districts’ deficiencies take away the argument to leave things as they are, but the situation avoids one of the major obstacles to consolidation: good schools that don’t want to assume their neighbors’ headaches. Since all three school districts have plenty of them, none can legitimately object that consolidation would bring down their quality of education.

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Hopefully consolidation will improve classroom outcomes, but it almost certainly will be a more efficient way to operate. The three school districts presently have about 4,300 students combined. That number can easily be handled under one administrative roof, saving in that one area alone an estimated $1.2 million a year.

If consolidation works in Sunflower County, maybe it will embolden the Legislature to more aggressively pursue it elsewhere. There are plenty of other places in Mississippi where school mergers make sense, but they are unlikely to happen unless the state forces the issue.