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,
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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.
Information from: The Commercial Dispatch,
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)