By Ashley Conroy
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Whether to consolidate schools is an issue many Mississippians have voiced strong opinions about. The question still remains whether it's going to happen or not.
The working group under the Commission on Educational Structure met on Tuesday to discuss their "final" draft.
In this version, they outlined three criteria for the full commission to consider: "voluntary" consolidation of districts and services, "involuntary" consolidation of districts and services and "incentives" for consolidation.
"An incentive that would say it would be worth your effort in resources that you could bring this school district in and all the kids would get a good education," said working group member James Stubbs, of Long Beach.
It's an issue some groups have been upset about saying it would take away a school's identity.
State superintendent Dr. Tom Burnham said it's more about consolidating "administration" rather than an actual school.
"If this had been approached as a consolidation of administrative functions, I think we wouldn't have near the emotion we have involved in it now," said Burnham.
However, Burnham nor anyone on the commission seems to know exactly how much taxpayers will save if this "consolidation" happens.
Those opposed to this measure are mostly upset about involuntary saying it would "force" a one district to merge with another.
The commission hired a research group from Colorado to develop this criteria. If the involuntary approach was chosen anything from how much a district pays per student, to how many students attend the entire district, to whether the district is consistently ranked as failing would all be considered.
As of now, 18 different districts in 16 different counties meet this criteria.
"People are not happy to be told, that you cannot do the job yourself. And therefore we are going to look at ways that we can force you together with someone else," Stubbs said.
This "final" draft the working group agreed upon will now be sent to all of the commission members. Once they make a decision, another report will be sent to Governor Haley Barbour.
Burnham does say he hopes the full commission and the governor will strongly consider incentives for school consolidation rather than an involuntary consolidation approach.
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