Senate bill

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2013

Sen. Steve Hale

Senator authors bill to tweak conservatorship

By Billy Davis

State Sen. Steve Hale is the author of a bill that would limit state takeover of public school districts to three years and allow the public to petition state government to return schools to local control.

Hale said the bill comes from public feedback after two school districts in Senate District 10, North Panola and Tate County schools, are currently under state control.

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The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 2124, would also require the Miss. Department of Education to publish a public notice in a local newspaper that explains the “exit criteria” to regain local control.   
“The bill is an attempt to make the process more transparent,” Hale said of the bill.

“People have a right to know why their district is under conservatorship and what steps must be taken to regain local control,” he added.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said Wednesday the state agency was unfamiliar with the bill until contacted by The Panolian.

“We will review it but reserve comment at this time,” the spokesman said. 

The fate of Hale’s bill, like thousands of others, is up in the air in the Senate. A deadline is coming next Tuesday for legislators’ bills to be approved or voted down in committees.

Hale, a Democrat, sits on the Senate Education Committee, where other senators were expected to discuss the content and intent of Senate Bill 2124 early Thursday morning.

Hale is listed as the sole author of the bill, which he said he began drafting last fall.

North Panola has been under state conservatorship since 2008, when low-performing test scores and a failure to follow state accreditation standards triggered the state takeover.

Robert King is currently serving as North Panola conservator, the third to head the district since the takeover.

King said last year that North Panola has corrected the accreditation standards and students’ test scores have improved overall.

At a school board meeting during the summer, King reported the district missed a “Successful” label by only a single digit, 132 instead of 133.

The five-person school board was dissolved in May after a state law went into effect, leaving King to lead school board meetings without trustees present.

Citing improvements in the district, King also suggested North Panola voters could elect a new Board of Trustees during the current school year.