Perry County, Richton superintendents merging districts

Perry County, Richton superintendents merging districts
Photo credit: WDAM
Photo credit: WDAM
Photo credit: WDAM

PERRY COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A bill to consolidate two Pine Belt school districts is moving forward at the capitol.

Senate bill 2461 would merge the Perry County and Richton School Districts. Chairman of the Senate Education Committee Gray Tollison proposed the bill.

Lawmakers in favor of these consolidations said it reduces administrative costs in small districts. District superintendents said it would actually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"If your an outsider looking in, you see two small school districts and you make think it look like a good idea to do that," Richton School Superintendent Clay Anglin said. "But, the benefit to our students, I don't know what that would be."

Perry County Schools Superintendent Scott Dearman agreed that the merger is a bad idea.

"The bill just says one superintendent, one school board, central office staff, but as a small school district we don't have alot of office staff we are lean already," Dearman said. "I don't know what cost savings they've looked at, I don't think they've looked at any."

If the bill is passed, the county-wide school district would go into effect on July 1, 2019. An interim trustee would be appointed to manage the transition for the consolidation into one Perry County School District.

Senate Bill 2641 specifically focuses on the superintendent's office and administrative staff, attempting to cut the costs there.

But, Dearman said a new school board could go further and decide to close schools or employment opportunities.

Dearman and Anglin said the cost of consolidating the school districts would end up being over $600,000.

Merging the districts could mean new teachers would have to be hired, as well as new equipment and technology for the schools.

Anglin said "ultimately, the taxpayers would have to be responsible for the added costs of merging the school districts."

Right now, Perry County has about 1,100 students enrolled in three elementary schools, one high school and a vocational technical center.
Richton Schools have less than 800 students.

Dearman said if schools were to close, it would not be easy for all students.  In a county that is about 50 miles long, transportation could become an issue.

Both Dearman and Anglin are in favor of building a centralized high school for both districts, but that would mean more money.

"If legislators would like to put $35 million in this bill and say consolidate, great. But just to say consolidate and you're going to save this money, that doesn't work here," Dearman said.

The Senate voted Thursday to pass the Bill 2461, which is now moving to the House for more work.

In the past five years, lawmakers have voted to abolish two school districts and merge 17 others. Some of those changes have not taken effect yet.