A push for a single countywide school district gathered steam earlier this month as a group of area professionals pledged their commitment to merge the Bay-Waveland and Hancock County school districts into one to save taxpayers money.
Ron Thorp of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government said the political watchdog group has been advocating the move for a year, and has presented its case to both districts and to the Bay St. Louis and Waveland city councils.
He estimated combining the two districts would save about $6 million. That’s based on the elimination of administrators, central office personnel and redundant services, and what he believes to be a likely merger of some schools and buildings, he said.
Total 2015-16 operation funding for the Hancock County district was about $37.5 million and Bay-Waveland’s was about $20.2 million, according to the state Department of Education Superintendent’s report. District administration costs were about $938,000 for the Hancock district and about $945,000 for the Bay district, which enrolls fewer than half the students the county does.
Lower property taxes?
Thorp said savings from consolidation would be split three ways, with one-third going back to per-student funding, one-third into a stipend for teachers and one-third going back into the county to nullify recent tax increases. Thorp said consolidation could save county taxpayers up to 10 percent in property taxes.
“Consolidation is good for everyone — the students, teachers and taxpayers,” he said. “It’s not just about the money, but we could use the savings to make our schools better. We could also make teacher pay an attractive part of that.”
He has built a team of 14 committee members dedicated to the consolidation effort. Each will be assigned a field, such as administration, insurance, transportation, maintenance and legal expenses, and will investigate how much money could be saved in that area.
Committee members include Bay St. Louis Councilman Lonnie Falgout, former Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre, county Supervisor Blaine LaFontaine and residents with backgrounds in education, finance and law.
Favre is exploring consolidation efforts at the state level, Thorp said.
The state generally favors consolidation when a district, or several districts, under-perform. That’s not the case in Thorp’s plan, which would merge two districts with B accountability scores.
Thorp instead points out that, based on population, most neighboring states have far fewer school districts than Mississippi has.
Mississippi has a population of roughly 3 million residents and 151 school districts.
Louisiana has a population of 4.65 million and 131 districts.
Tennessee, whose population is more than twice that of Mississippi, has 143 districts.
Research on the benefits of consolidation is mixed. Some mergers have resulted in cost savings and led to increased academic opportunities. But other studies indicate consolidation often increases a district’s transportation spending per pupil; drives up upper-end salaries and benefits; and takes away the individual culture, community and history of the school district.
Consolidation of the Bay-Waveland and Hancock districts would certainly mean job cuts, although how many is uncertain.
Recently appointed Bay-Waveland Superintendent Vikki Landry and several school board members declined to comment on the consolidation matter. Hancock County Supervisor Alan Dedeaux didn’t return calls for comment.
On Wednesday, Legislators passed several education bills. Two dealt with property taxes.
The committee will meet again Feb. 15 to compare and discuss their findings.