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County school board superintendent reacts to consolidation proposal

January 30, 2013

Just like many people, Clay County School Superintendent Mae Brewer was sitting at home this weekend watching the news on television when all of a sudden the news anchor started talking about a proposal to abolish the Clay County School District.
“What?” thought Brewer, who didn’t expect to find out about the proposed abolishment that way. As the anchor continued Brewer listened to the report about Republican Senator Gray Tollison trying to merge the West Point School District and the Clay County School District into one school district that would be named the West Point Consolidated School District.
Brewer said she didn’t have a clue about the proposal to consolidate the schools until hearing it on television and said it was totally unfair that she was not contacted first by the Mississippi Department of Education or a state legislator before Tollison introduced the bill.
The bill to consolidate the West Point and Clay County school districts has not yet passed the Senate, but if it is signed into law the consolidation would take effect July 1, 2015. If passed, the merger would come following a November 2014 special election in which a totally new school board of trustees will be elected – not appointed. The new school district superintendent of the consolidated school district would be appointed by the new school board of trustees.
“I just feel like this was handled so badly,” Brewer said Wednesday. “Angela (Turner-Lairy) is new to the Senate. We have no experienced representation in Jackson, and that’s one reason (Tollison) is trying to do this. If he wanted to start somewhere why didn’t he start in his own county? For me, as the leader of the school district, to hear it on TV when everybody else did was unfair. I think someone from the state department should have given me a heads up. My telephone started ringing and ringing, and it was like I had hid something from my people and I didn’t.”
She said it was not only unfair to her but to Burnell McDonald, Superintendent of the West Point School District.
“Both Burnell and I need to have a say in this,” Brewer said. “I haven’t been contacted by any of the senators or representatives. What about my people out here? We have the highest unemployment rate in the state, and this would take jobs and health care away from people. It’s not fair. Nobody has said how successful my school district is. When they sent the criteria for accreditation they couldn’t get me now they’re coming up with another reason.”
If the two school districts are consolidated and the new school board decides to close the West Clay Elementary facility then some children living in the western part of Clay County will have to travel nearly 20 miles to go to school in the city limits. But Tollison’s bill, Senate Bill 2637, states that the county school does not have to close unless it is unneeded, so students living out west may still have the option of going to school at the same West Clay Elementary building – it would just be under the leadership of the West Point Consolidated School District.
There are about 165 students who attend West Clay Elementary including Pre-K students. That’s 165 additional students the new West Point Consolidated School Board of Trustees would have to acquire funding for. Although the Clay County School District is the smallest school district in the state that’s not a factor, Brewer said, when it comes to administrative costs.
Brewer said she’s not totally against the idea of consolidation but feels both school boards in Clay County should have input before a decision is made. This past year students in the Clay County School District received an overall accountability score of High Performing, which is an overall B grade. She said students have performed very well because of the hard work of the staff as well as the funding the school receives. If the consolidation becomes law the accountability requirement that all public schools have will be waived for two years for the new West Point Consolidated School District, and state assessment requirements will also be waived. This is to determine the accreditation level of the new school district on the performance and accountability rating model.

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