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Survey Answers Provide Insight Into School Trustees’ Priorities

School board members discuss Legislative survey.

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – District school board trustees are for the Common Core State Standards, but are not happy with the implementation or the testing mechanism.
That was among the comments made as trustees answered questions on the Mississippi School Board Association 2015 legislative survey. The survey was distributed to the state’s school board members and superintendents to help the MSBA establish its legislative agenda and direct its lobbying efforts for the 2015 Legislative Session.
Water Valley district trustees tackled the 23-question survey during their regular first of the month meeting Monday night and their answers provide an insight to the thinking of local board members and what they want to see happen over the next year and into the future.
The first question asked if members supported the recently filed lawsuit that would require the state to reimburse schools for past underfunding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. That question drew a round of “opposed” from the trustees.
But, on the next question, they expressed support of a Constitutional amendment that would require the Legislature to increase funding for MAEP.
The trustees were against legislation that would divert public funds to non-public schools, home-schooling or virtual schools.
The question of offering a non-voting associate membership to MSBA for non-profit public charter schools created a discussion among trustees who were split on the issue. Board president Lamar Burgess said that it appears that charter schools are coming and added that they “should have to receive some of the same training” as those in public school administration.
The whole board was in favor of legislation that would change the MAEP funding formula from average daily attendance to total enrollment. That change would result in more money for the school.
The next question asked if board members would be for legislation that would change MAEP funding in such a way as to reduce money for public education. Several of the trustees shook their heads and noted that the survey appeared to be “very guided,” referring to the slant toward the MSBA agenda.
Following that, board members were asked if they were for legislation to fully fund MAEP. “Why would you even put that on there,” questioned trustee Pierce Epes as board members answered in the affirmative.
“Just to emphasize it,” commented Superintendent Kim Chrestman. Fully funding MAEP is a major concern of educators in Mississippi.
On the question that followed, board members were asked if they were for legislation that would require districts to transition from an elected to an appointed superintendent, to which they responded that they were. The WVSD superintendent is appointed.
Board members were then asked if they would support legislation that required all school board members to be elected. They all responded that they were for elected school board members, the system used by the WVSD.
The board members were against legislation that would change election law that would require all board members to be elected, re-elected, appointed or re-appointed in the same election.
Next, the survey asked if board members were for legislation that would allow charter schools in successful school districts; A, B or C. “No, not if they are successful,” said trustee Taylor Trusty, who has expressed support for charter schools. “But, if you fall below successful…yes.”
Still on the topic of charter school, the survey asked if board members were for legislation allowing for-profit charter school in Mississippi. “No,” was the general response.
Board members were for legislation allowing local boards the control to design incentive-based pay packages for staff members.
Next, the survey asked if they were for legislation restricting local control by  school boards. Board members asked what control is left to be taken away. “We’re writing policy around the laws that we can write policy around,” commented trustee Casey Washington.
Question number 16 asked if board members were for legislation creating a state-wide approach to quality early childhood education. “That’s pre-school,” noted Chrestman as board members agreed they were for that approach.
The next question asked if board members were for legislation that would dissolve and then restructure a school district under a different governance model when local control is not working or there is a history of chronic failure at a school within a district or the district goes into financial or academic conservatorship. Trustees agreed they would support that legislation.
Next they were asked if they would support legislation that would consolidate school districts that have chronically failing schools. Trustees disagreed with that approach and Trusty added, “You consolidate one, you consolidate them all.”
That question was followed by a couple of additional consolidation questions, which trustees were either against or had no opinion.
At the end of the survey, question 22 asked what were their top one or two legislative concerns. Topping the trustee’s list was how average daily attendance affects funding, MAEP funding in general and how schools are assessed.
The final question, number 23, asked what the board’s top priorities were for the upcoming legislative session. “See 22,” several board members answered in unison.

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