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Schools: Council, Legislature at odds

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
April 10, 2001
Local legislators Monday got an earful from members of the Meridian City Council about a new law that could allow separate school district residents to choose where their children can go to school.
Several city council members voiced displeasure about the law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Their comments came at a Council of Governments meeting, also attended by legislators.
The bill, passed in March, allows separate school district residents to choose in deciding whether their children attend city or county schools if the council doesn't appoint a resident of the separate district. Because they live outside the city limits but inside the city school district, these residents can't vote for mayor and city councilmen, who in turn appoint school board members.
Potentially, it is a major financial issue, too. Between state educational assistance and local ad valorem taxes, the 227 students involved in the issue account for more than $800,000 now going to the city school district. Should they leave, at least $400,000 in state funding about $1,800 per student would follow them to county schools.
Mayor John Robert Smith has indicated plans to ask a resident of the separate school district to serve on the five-member board. Board President James Vance's term expired one week ago, but he will continue to serve until a new member is approved.
The bill, authored by state Rep. Eric Robinson, R-Quitman, was supported by the local legislative delegation.
Ward 1 Councilman Dr. George Thomas said offering the parents a choice in school systems wouldn't answer the problem of representation that many parents have complained about for years.
After hearing complaints from council members state Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, defended the legislative action saying lawmakers were trying to handle the issue one step at a time.
State Rep. Charles Young Sr., D-Meridian, also defended the Legislature's action because the issue is one of taxing citizens who have no representation.
Young told council members the Legislature wanted to act quickly on the issue.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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