Group holds consolidation protest at superintendent’s office

Published 9:09 am Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On Monday, Nov. 14, at 4 p.m., citizens of Jefferson Davis County held a protest at the Superintendent of Education office in Prentiss.

The superintendent and the school board have been sued by JDC School Preservation Action Group, through three committee members: Bobby Wilson, Nadine Thompson, and Pat Courtney.

The group is seeking an injunction to halt any further efforts to consolidate the schools beginning in the fall of 2017.

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“With all these facts before them, the superintendent and board refuse to act properly in reporting separate numbers for two separate schools, Prentiss High and Bassfield High, to the MHSAA,” said Bobby Wilson.

According to MHSAA associate director Rickey Neaves, one number was turned in to the MHSAA office. Neaves told The Prentiss Headlight, that the final classifications will be set Nov. 16, and that Jefferson Davis County would be placed in a classification according to the one large number turned in, unless he was informed of the two separate numbers beforehand.

Neaves stated that if one school was put in a classification, but in fact remained as two separate schools, the two schools would participate as independent schools for the next two years.

The possibility of very few, if any games, and no playoff participation, caused concern for many citizens in Jeff Davis County. Several held signs in front of the county building stating “Email two numbers.”

The MHSAA sets classifications every two years.

The Jefferson County School District made the decision in June to consolidate the schools due to the district not being able to maintain both schools efficiently with just 1500 students.

Preservation group president Bobby Wilson said the district is not being straightforward about the consolidation.

“The board and the superintendent told us that they had made up their minds, and it doesn’t matter what the citizens have to say,” Wilson explained

Wilson said according to school officials, consolidation stemmed from a lot of issues, including money.

“We have the 2015 state audit, Wilson said, “it shows that is not true. We’ve reached out to school officials, but our calls have not been returned.”

The superintendent’s office closed early Monday and no one was available for comment during the protest.

The JDC Preservation Group filed its complaint against the school district Oct. 31, after they say students and taxpayers were not given a choice in the matter.

The group argues in their complaint that the school board has not announced any plans on shutting down either school, and a location or construction plans for a new school have not been openly discussed.

The group also argued that neither Bassfield nor Prentiss are close enough in distance to each other to have reasonable travel times for students that ride busses.

The complaint goes on to say that since no plans for consolidation or school closures have been made public, the district is putting taxpayers in a position of uncertainty when it comes to the finances of consolidation.

Per the complaint, the group is arguing that due to no new businesses in the county and the continued decrease in population, the district could not afford a consolidation, and that a new building may not be feasible or in the best interest of taxpayers and students.

The group is asking for an injunction to be issued requiring the district to release any consolidation plans before taking further action.

Superintendent William Russell provided a consolidation outline in June at the first meeting called for business owners and chamber partnership members.

“Each elementary and middle school K-8 grades will remain in their town. Prentiss High students will join with Bassifeld High students to form one county high school, grades 9-12. As a temporary solution, school students will use the existing Bassfield High facilities.”

Russell also stated that the new school will be in Carson, and tentative plans have the structure being built in three years.

Since that time, the plan outlined in June, has been contradicted. When asked by a citizen during a Sept. 27 meeting what the justification was behind the placement of the new school, school board member Von Norwood stated, “Let me say publicly, that I am not completely sold on that plan. It is not etched in stone. These are ideas.”

The absence of a concrete plan and the inconsistencies in the board’s statements, have left citizens confused and afraid of the future.

Superintendent Russell could not be reached for comment, as of Tuesday morning, regarding the protest or the submission of numbers.

Two new school board members were elected last week’s election in districts one and two replacing Rev. Jessie Holloway and Billy Boleware in January.