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Dispute over local schools spills into legislative action

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Jan. 19, 2001
Parents in the Meridian Separate School District could choose whether to send their children to public schools in Meridian or Lauderdale County under terms of a measure approved Thursday by a legislative subcommittee.
The action came in wake of a bitter local dispute which helped defeat two school bond issues last year and prompted the Meridian City Council to reject a city school board nominee who lived outside the city limits.
State Rep. Eric Robinson, R-Quitman, wrote the bill HB 413 which would allow students who live outside city limits but attend city schools to choose which district's schools they want to attend.
Co-written by state Rep. Tommy Horne, Independent-Meridian, the bill would also require tax money derived from that portion of the school district to be divided between Meridian and Lauderdale County school districts based on the percentage of students who attend each, Reeves said.
He said committee members found it "disturbing" that no representatives from Meridian public schools attended although about 15 concerned citizens did. Two of them addressed the committee.
Jeff Buckley, a resident of the area in question and opponent of the two $33.5 million school bond referendums that failed last year, didn't attend the meeting. But, in a telephone interview he said the lack of representation convinced him to oppose the bond issues.
Voices like his pushed MPS Superintendent Janet McLin to call a meeting before the bond issue vote in an effort to reach some resolution. During that meeting, she said she had no problem with a school board member coming from that area.
After more than three months of delays, Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith nominated county resident Elaine Maust to the city school board. The city council rejected her nomination.
He said the questionable boundaries and lack of representation dates back about 70 years.
McLin said she has not given any thought to how the bill might affect future bond issues, but she does not support it.
MPS officials say 300 to 325 students live outside the city limits but attend city schools. McLin said she does not know how much money they generate for the budget.
The House Education Committee is expected to consider the bill next week.