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JPS takeover could mean higher taxes and no guarantee of better performance

HEARING: The state Commission on Accreditation hears arguments last week about a potential state takeover of the Jackson Public Schools District. Photo by Steve Wilson

According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by Jackson attorney and JPS parent Dorsey Carson on the behalf of a group of Jackson Public Schools District parents, a state takeover of JPS could bring higher taxes and no higher academic performance.

State law allows the state to take over a failing district once the governor declares a state of emergency. In such an instance, the Mississippi Department of Education would dissolve the school board temporarily, then fire the superintendent and appoint a conservator, who would have the powers of a superintendent and a school board.

One of those powers is to increase property taxes by 4 percent per year, which the lawsuit characterizes as "true taxation without representation."

The Jackson Public Schools District's board isn't elected, but is appointed by the mayor of Jackson subject to the approval of the city council.

The lawsuit also says little discernible academic progress has been made in the 19 previous takeovers of 14 districts. Also, none of them are even close to the size of JPS, which has 27,000 students versus the 3,500 in Holmes County, which was the biggest district the MDE has managed before. Three of those districts have been taken over twice and several have been consolidated into neighboring districts.

The districts which remained the same or got worse after a period of state control include:

  • North Panola - Twice taken over by the state (1996 to 1997 and 2008 to 2013), ranked 97th out of 127 districts with a D grade after six years of state control.

  • Tunica County - Eight years under state control (1996-2002 and 2015 to present), moved up to a C from a D grade and ranked only 95th of 127 districts

  • Oktibbeha County - The district was combined into the Starkville School District (1997 to 2002 and 2012 to 2015) and is not ranked by the MDE in its accountability grades.

  • North Bolivar County - This district was combined into the Mound Bayou School District and was taken over by the state from 2005 to 2006. North Bolivar Consolidated School District now has a D grade.

  • Holmes County - It was taken over 2006 to 2007, ranks 123rd out of school districts and has an F grade.

  • Jefferson Davis County - The MDE ran it from 2007 to 2009 and it's ranked 92nd with a D grade.

  • Hazelhurst School District - It was taken over from 2008 to 2012 by the state and was ranked 117th with a D grade.

  • Indianola City School District - After being under state control from 2008 to 2012, this district was combined with Sunflower County (taken over from 2010 to 2012) and Drew (2011 to 2012) to create the Sunflower County Consolidated School District, which is ranked 113rd with a D grade.

  • Okolona - Two years of a state takeover from 2010 to 2012 has yielded an F grade and a ranking at 94th.

  • Leflore County School District - After a state takeover that began in 2013 and continues to the present, the district is ranked 124th and has a D grade.

  • Claiborne County - The district was taken over by the state from 2013 to 2016 and is ranked 121st with an F grade.

  • Scott County - It was a B rated district when it was taken over by the state for a year from 2014 to 2015 and it remains a B-grade district.

Two districts later earned satisfactory grades after state takeovers include:

  • Tate County - This was one of the few districts to benefit, as its grade is now up to a C and is ranked 74th after a three-year state takeover from 2009 to 2012.

  • Aberdeen - The state took over the district from 2012 to this year and the district had a C grade.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction from the federal court to stop a potential takeover of the JPS district after the state Board of Education voted to recommend to Gov. Phil Bryant that a state of emergency exists in the district. The lawsuit alleges that JPS parents weren't given a voice in the proceedings.

Bryant told Jackson TV station WAPT that he wants to do his due diligence by carefully examining the evidence and will not "rush to judgement."

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