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Some State Lawmakers See Race As A Factor In School District Consolidation Push

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 14 Feb 2014 03:13pm | comments

Some Mississippi lawmakers say they are seeing a racial trend in the move to consolidate school districts in the state. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports race appeared to play a role in a vote rejecting the consolidation of the Holmes County and Durant School districts.

A bill in the house to consolidate Holmes county and Durant was recently defeated 54-to-58 but not before a heated debate.

Opponents of the measure, mostly Democrats and African-Americans, see race as one potential reason for the consolidations.

Representative Adrien Wooten is a Democrat from Jackson.

"Because unless you can come and stand at this microphone and tell me that you have gone into these areas. That you have met with these folk. That you have surrounded yourself with them. That you have learned their culture. That you have integrated yourself into their culture. You don't have the right to say what should be done to somebody else's district," Wooten said.

One Democrat called on lawmakers to take the push for consolidation to black and white districts like Madison county and canton.

Representative Ed Blackmon, who is from Canton, says it is impossible to ignore the history of racial oppression in Holmes County.

"So we are going to bludgeon them and make them be less of citizens then their neighboring counties around them. And that is what this means. Saying you are not intelligent. You are incapable of making these kind of decision on your own. So we, in all of our wisdom and experience down here, are going to make these decision for you," Blackmon said.

Nearly every district the state has consolidated is majority black, but they are also districts that have been chronically failing.

Republican Representative Toby Barker of Hattiesburg says the consolidations are about bringing sensibility to the state's education system.

"The truth is that if you were to design an educational system from scratch today, there is no way that you would design it as it is. You would not draw 152 school districts to serve 82 counties. We don't need 153 school districts for 82 counties. How much money is wasted on paid administrators that could be put into the classrooms," Barker said.

For the last three years, the Republican led Mississippi legislature has been moving to consolidate districts around the state and are again targeting more.

There are bills consolidating other districts alive in the legislature leaving the possibility that Homes and Durant could still be combined this year.
 

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