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Columbus

Most base families opt for Caledonia

By WADE H. LEONARD

The Commercial Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Since Columbus Air Force Base personnel

last year were given the right to choose to send their children to

Caledonia or Columbus schools, Columbus Municipal School District

has had 32 CAFB children enrolled in their schools, whereas,

Lowndes County School District has anywhere from about 100 to 120.

Very few new base families choose to send their children to city

schools, said CAFB School Liaison Officer E.J. Griffis.

The times school buses arrive in the morning and perception of

higher-quality education in the county are a couple reasons,

Griffis said.

Caledonia schools performed best of all schools in the area on

the state-mandated Mississippi Curriculum Test 2 taken in May; the

results were released last week.

But, he went on to say, if the Columbus school district

maintains its current track, the trend could shift in the other

direction.

"As the magnet schools mature and the instructors become more

familiar with the magnet program and the International

Baccalaureate program becomes more entrenched you might see a

migration go the other way," Griffis said.

Magnet schools, with themes of international studies,

communication and technology, fine arts, aerospace science and

medical sciences and wellness were implemented this year.

David and Linda Rogers, who live on the base, chose to leave

their two daughters, who are both sophomores at Columbus High

School, in the city school system, despite what seems like a CAFB

exodus to Caledonia.

"We've been here for nine years and I had seen the schools

improving, and my daughters wanted to stay," said Linda Rogers.

"Right now, Columbus is working to get the International

Baccalaureate program, and that's another reason I chose to keep

them there."

The IB diploma program is considered by many educators to be one

of the most challenging in the world. Once the Columbus school

district completes certification into the IB program, Columbus High

will be the first school in Mississippi to offer the IB diploma.

Schools that receive children from CAFB receive additional

federal funds through a grant called Impact Aid. The grant is

designed to help schools educating children whose parents live on

or work at military installations. Though across the country, the

amount of impact aid can range from hundreds to thousands of

dollars, locally the funds are about $863 per student.

"It's not a great amount of money considering the number we

serve or the total average of around $8,000 we spend to educate a

child per year," said Columbus schools superintendent Del

Phillips. "I think people are still under the impression that CAFB

children generate a huge amount of extra revenue ... when that's

just not the case anymore."

Phillips said the city is happy with parents having school

choice.

"I think our school system feels choice is good for students

and parents ... we would like to see it countywide ... and have

offered that to the county school board multiple times," he said.

And despite the city schools significantly losing out on base

students to Caledonia, Phillips doesn't see his district and the

county as competitors for CAFB students.

"Schools are our No. 1 priority. You should be the best you can

be. If you do that then you don't have to worry about a competitive

relationship.

"If there's anything I can do to help (LCSD Superintendent Mike

Halford) and the county, I'll do it. In no way is it a competitive

relationship between the city and the county," Phillips said.

The Columbus school district achieved unitary status last year,

freeing the schools from a 1970 court ruling requiring special

attention from the Department of Justice in order to ensure schools

were not practicing discrimination.

The Columbus school district is one of only a handful of

Mississippi school districts to be freed from such an order, many

of which came into play during the mid to late '60s. Part of the

nearly 40-year-old decision mandated that children living on the

CAFB, which by state legislation is part of the county's district,

were required to attend city schools.

Achievement of unitary status ended the mandate and opened the

way for students to attend Caledonia.

Last year, an agreement was reached allowing CAFB parents the

choice between the city and the county school systems. Thus far,

the agreements have only been for the duration of each school year,

with the expectation another agreement will be signed for the

upcoming year.

CAFB parents who want their children to be enrolled in city

schools must get a document from the county expressing permission

to do so. No such document is necessary for county enrollment.

Every year a new agreement between the city and the county must

be negotiated for CAFB school choice to continue.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch,

http://www.cdispatch.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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