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franklin county times

Angry parents drill council

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
June 28, 2001
Angry residents of the Meridian Separate School District told city council members Wednesday they do not want a representative on the city school board.
They want the option to send their children to county schools.
Amid unusually tight security, about 50 residents attended the Meridian City Council meeting, specially called to consider the appointment of a separate school district resident to the city school board.
Separate school district residents live outside the city limits, but inside the city school district. They say they pay city school taxes, but have no legitimate voice in city government a complaint that plagued supporters of a $33.5 million school bond issue that failed twice last year.
A new state law, House Bill 413, allows separate school district residents to send their children to county schools unless the Meridian City Council appoints a representative from their area to the city school board. The law takes effect Sunday.
New points of view
Separate school district residents present at the meeting told the council they like the new law because they want out of the city school district. Keith Hales told council members they have no right to appoint anyone as a representative for the separate school district.
Resident Rebecca Benson said the new state law is not intended to force the city into giving the separate school district representation. She maintains it was intended to give parents in the separate district a choice.
Legislative authors and supporters of the bill disagree, saying the House Bill 413 was not designed to create school choice, but to encourage representation.
By the numbers
There are 227 students in the city schools from the Meridian Separate School District. School officials say if those children are withdrawn from city schools, $1,800 a year in supplemental state funding goes with each one.
Coupled with ad valorem tax losses, such a move could cost the city school system nearly $1 million. It would come at a time when the 7,000-student district already faces estimated revenue losses of more than $1 million  mostly due to state cutbacks for the 2001-02 school year.
Other citizens from the separate district criticized the council for wanting to keep separate district children for the financial implications.
Wednesday's meeting was marred by rumors that several potential school board nominees from the separate school district had been threatened if they accepted the position.
Apparently as a result of threats, metal detectors were in use at the door of the council chambers and three armed Meridian police officers stood watch in the back of the room throughout the meeting.
Some city officials criticized the legislation saying it had not solved the real problem of giving the separate district residents permanent representation. Storms characterized the bill as "a lousy piece of legislation."
Ward 1 Councilman Dr. George Thomas said no matter how flimsy the legislation was, the council has to handle the issue with the laws that have been passed.
Ward 5 Councilman Bobby Smith made a motion to vote on Barrett's appointment despite his not being present. The motion died for lack of a second.
Councilman Smith characterized Barrett's potential appointment as a last ditch effort by the city to save the money it could lose if the 227 students leave the city system.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3226, or e-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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