DATE: Sept. 10, 2010

COMMISSION ON MISSISSIPPI EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURE SUBMITS FINAL REPORT TO GOV. BARBOUR

JACKSON – The Commission on Educational Structure, chaired by BancorpSouth Chairman and CEO Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo, today released its final report of criteria to be used when considering school district consolidation to Gov. Haley Barbour.

The commission was charged with examining how school district consolidation can best be achieved and calculating the savings that would result from consolidation, under an executive order by Gov. Barbour. The recommendations were required to detail standards and priorities to be used in selecting school districts for consolidation. The report was presented to Gov. Barbour, signaling the completion of the work of the Commission.
“These common-sense solutions are a good first step toward improving the educational and financial conditions of Mississippi schools,” Gov. Barbour said. “I appreciate the months of hard work by the commission. Through innovate approaches to education, we can improve the efficiency of our districts and quality of opportunities for Mississippi children.”

The report includes four recommendations:

Recommendation 1
Lower the overall cost of doing business and encourage the economies of scale by amending Mississippi Code Section 37-7-345 to structure statewide consolidation of procurement of certain items. Potential items include those that are used in all school districts, such as buses, copy paper and janitorial supplies.

Recommendation 2
Recommend that, augmented by incentives listed below, school districts consolidate using a data-driven model. This approach will demonstrate how the quality of educational services will be improved through consolidation based on the statistical correlations drawn regarding enrollment, student achievement, number of courses taken, ACT college and career readiness data, district administration spending and/or other factors as designated by Legislature.

Legislature provides the following incentives for districts to voluntarily consolidate under existing law.

· Financial incentives: additional resources, issuing bonds to provide for building and renovating facilities, and providing no-interest loans; provide a percentage of the base student cost greater than 100 percent for each student in the consolidated district.

· Accreditation/accountability incentives: holding consolidated districts harmless from receiving an accountability rating for a set period of time; successful districts that receive failing districts will receive an accountability rating based only on original student population, unless the new students help the district improve its accountability rating; remove districts from the accreditation audit schedule for a period of time to allow the consolidated district to gain sure footing.

· Technical assistance: provide external facilitators to guide the districts through the consolidation process and remain as an adviser for the first two years of operation as a consolidated district. The external facilitator would ensure a smooth transition and that all voices, including those of all districts being consolidated, would be heard and recognized. The Mississippi Department of Education staff members would also assist in managing the process to the extent possible based on funding and staffing levels. In addition, the technical assistance includes developing guidelines for optimal performance based on best practices. The guidelines would address issues such as optimal size of schools and districts and caps on administrative costs.

Recommended model timeline for implementation:

September
Accountability Results released
October
Run model based on data
November
List of potential districts released
January-April
Legislature considers incentive package available to districts listed
July 1
Deadline for acceptance of incentive package
July 1-June 30
Planning Year(s)
July 1
New consolidated district is established, former districts abolished

Recommendation 3
Provide the State Board of Education full authority to dissolve districts that are placed in conservatorship or the Recovery School District and reconstitute them as a new district with new district lines and new governance structure.

Recommendation 4
Using successful models based on businesses and districts in other states, require through legislation that all districts within a county consolidate support services and back-office operations and allow school districts from multiple counties to use a centralized system for shared services and back-office operations voluntarily. Through a joint outsourcing agreement and selecting the vendor through a Request for Proposals process, services that may be shared include purchasing, transportation, child nutrition, payroll and personnel. The vendor selected may be one of the school districts, a Regional Service Agency or a business. The consolidation of services may be phased in over a three-year period or a period of time specified by the Legislature.
“I believe these four recommendations provide the Legislature with some excellent options for consideration,” said Aubrey Patterson, Chair of the Commission on Mississippi Educational Structure. “The Commission examined the issue from every angle and developed recommendations that address the consolidation of both school districts and services. I appreciate their hard work and dedication to the task.”

The Commission held six meetings from January through June. A public hearing was also held to gain feedback on the issue from stakeholders.

“The most crucial factor when considering consolidation or any other initiative impacting education is to examine how it will help improve educational outcomes for children,” said Dr. Tom Burnham, State Superintendent of Education. “We must look for the solutions that provide greater opportunities for students and improve teaching and learning in the classroom. Finding ways to do this more efficiently and effectively will free up resources to help school leaders meet increasingly rigorous standards.”

Other members of the committee include: House Education Chairman Cecil Brown, Senate Education Chairman Videt Carmichael, Rep. Robert Johnson, Sen. Sampson Jackson, State Superintendent Tom Burnham, Commissioner of Higher Learning Hank Bounds, State Board of Education member Howell Gage, State Board of Education member and Pass Christian Superintendent Sue Matheson, Barksdale Reading Institute CEO Claiborne Barksdale, Jackson businessman Socrates Garrett, Madison County Superintendent Mike Kent, South Delta Superintendent Katherine Tankson, Gulf Coast businessman Stephen Renfroe, Meridian businesswoman Mary Peavey, Senate Universities and Colleges Chairman Doug Davis and Rep. Herb Frierson.

A copy of the full report is available on the Mississippi Department of Education Web site at http://www.mde.k12.ms.us/Extrel/leg/Ed_Structure2.pdf