Monday, June 18, 2012

School board votes to settle Rankin Civil War (video)

Highlights:
-Recap of meeting Friday
-Documents from court case and proposed settlement
-video of entire meeting. Several good exchanges.


Tempers flared, sparks flew, and words were exchanged as the Rankin County School Board voted 3-2 to settle a lawsuit with the Pearl Separate School District (PSDD) Friday. Pearl filed a motion in federal court seeking to transfer several areas within the Pearl city limits to the PSSD from the Rankin County School District. Rankin Superintendent Lynn Weathersby, School Board President Ann Sturdivant, and its attorneys vigorously opposed settling with Pearl.* Proposed settlement

The Rankin and Pearl school systems are under a federal consent decree in a desegregation lawsuit filed in 1967.** The federal court must approve any changes in school attendance zones. Pearl filed a motion to enlarge the attendance zone for the district in 2010 after it annexed part of Patrick Farms, the Highlands, and an area off of Eldorado Road. The motion was filed after a two-year agreement expired. Pearl and Rankin agreed in 2008 to give families in the affected areas two years to decide which district their children would attend. It did not matter if the homeowners in the subject areas had children, they merely had to state a preference if they did have children. 487 children in these areas attend Rankin schools while 94 attend school in Pearl. Sources told this correspondent the Justice Department and federal court were not happy the two districts made the agreement without federal approval.

Rankin attorney Ben Griffith opened the meeting by addressing the board. He didn't play around or mince any words in his remarks as he strongly urged the board not to settle the lawsuit. He said Rankin will lose $5 million per year if it loses the lawsuit, a lawsuit he said Rankin had an excellent chance of winning. He said Pearl was seeking to change district lines not because it wanted Pearl residents to go to Pearl schools but because it was seeking to add white students to a declining white population in the school district.

The percentage of white students in the Pearl district has declined from 73% in the 2000 census to 58% in the most recent census. Pearl said in an exhibit prepared by Dr. Richard Boyd (former state Superintendent) it was trying to prevent white flight and such flight will occur if a "tipping point" is reached. However, Pearl Mayor Brad Rogers and School Board President Sondra Odom both told JJ they wanted Pearl residents to go to Pearl schools.

Mr. Griffith told the board "your oath as a trustee is to do what is best for Rankin County schools and students". He said the Pearl District was "doing this" because their district is getting "too black" and said "this is quoting from their own papers in court." He said the areas were "not a gold mine" but "Rankin County school property".

CPA Charles Shivers told the school board the district would lose five million dollars a year in MAEP funding and "students equate to money". He said the loss will include $1.5 state funding Rankin receives for being a high growth district. Mr. Shivers said a district has to have three consecutive years of growth to be eligible for the funding. He said the transfer will erase the growth for Rankin for at least one year and thus deny Rankin high growth funds for several years. He stated Pearl was receiving a little over a million dollars a year from the state in high growth funding. He said it would take 2 1/2 years to recover the loss and "operating costs will not be significantly reduced" as the students will come from various schools and classrooms. School board member Cecil McCrory asked him if his calculations were based upon losing all 487 students. Mr. Shivers replied "yes".

Mr. McCrory disputed this somewhat as he said sources in the legislature told him high-growth funding is going to disappear anyway. JJ reviewed RCSD audits since 2004 and found the average growth in students per year is 446 students.

Several Pearl city employees told the board when they built their homes in these areas, they thought their children would go to Pearl Schools. Board member Grumpy Farmer told Mr. Shivers his assertion of $5 million per year assumed all 487 children will transfer to Pearl and said such would not be the case. Pearl School Board President Sondra Odom told JJ Rankin would not lose that many students as most had chosen to stay with Rankin in the past. The proposed agreement states the children currently attending Rankin schools can choose to stay in Rankin schools until they "graduate from high school" and the agreement includes "their siblings".

Several Pearl city employees told the board they built their houses in Pearl only to find their kids will go to Rankin County schools. (See the beginning of the second video. The exchanges are worth watching). One resident said "We built in Pearl, we live in Pearl, we want to go to Pearl." Superintendent Lynn Weathersby replied, "The city of Pearl and the Pearl School District are obviously two different creatures. If I were building a house and wanted it to be in the Pearl School District, I'd build a house in the Pearl School District.. but if you go build a house and you have a three year-old or a five year-old or any age you look at the school district you build in."

Pearl Mayor Rogers didn't like these remarks one bit and stood up to challenge the Superintendent. (Again, watch the video in the second clip at 3:37, its worth watching.. "You tell me where in Pearl, Mississippi someone can build and go to the Pearl school zone... I would expect your expert witnesses to tell you what they pay them to tell you... What I heard was the only growth in Rankin County is in that little area in Pearl, Mississippi. I'm feeling pretty good about that... But I think y'all ought to know that is a bunch of bunk. If you tell me Rankin County is not going to continue to be a high-growth district if you lose this area, that is an absolute lie. You tell me, Mrs. Sturdivant, that the Reservoir is not growing? Flowood and the Reservoir's not growing? Come on, give me a break folks. This is just another effort to harm the city of Pearl. We've fought for everything we've ever got and we're fighting for this today."

Mr. Griffith again addressed the board and said the district will lose several million dollars a year. He said the board was almost at the finish line and had spent nearly three-fourths of the cost for fighting the lawsuit. He said the district had an excellent chance of winning and should not settle the suit. Rankin budgeted one million dollars for the legal battle and has spent approximately $400,000. Mr. Weathersby said it was worth "spending $1 million to save $4 million yer year." Mr. Griffith said even if the agreement was accepted by the board, Pearl would be back again and again seeking to add more areas to its district. He said there was "no finality" and a court decision would provide such finality. He said two or three years from now there would be another effort to get "more students and more money" and the only way to stop it was to "get a federal court to cut this off."

Cecil McCrory moved to accept the settlement agreement. Grumpy Farmer seconded the motion. Dr. Ruth Burgess, Mr. Farmer, and Mr. McCrory voted to settle. Board President Ann Studivant and Debbie Tolleson voted against it. Pearl Mayor Brad Rogers said "I am obviously pleased with the vote and I think it's the right thing." Sondra Odom, President of the Pearl School Board, said "I am relieved and happy. I think it's a win-win for Pearl and Rankin County. Kids going to Rankin County schools can still go to Rankin County as their siblings and unborn siblings will. People that move to Pearl will know they can go to Pearl. We need those areas for housing and growth."

Ann Sturdivant said, "I'm terribly disappointed. The board chose to give away valuable property to another school district. I think this will hurt the taxpayers of Rankin County. If homeowners in these areas are transferred to Pearl, their property taxes will increase eleven mills. That means the owner of a $200,000 home will pay an additional $220 a year in property taxes."












Dr. Boyd exhibit for Pearl, Federal opposition to Pearl motion, Pearl resolution, Pearl response to Feds, Rankin response, map of El Dorado area, Greenwich map, Patrick Farms map, 1979 order for Pearl, 1997 order for Pearl

*Media in attendance: Fox40, Clarion-Ledger (appeared halfway through the meeting), and The Rez News blog.

**Kenneth W. Adams v. Rankin County Board of Education Case number: Civil action 3:67-cv-04156-TSL-MTP. Rankin is represented by attorneys Ben Griffith and Fred Harrell while Skip Jernigan and James Robertson represent Pearl.

Note:

2004: 15,781
2005: 16,227
2006: 16,784
2007: 17,140
2008: 17,606
2009: 18,003
2010: 18,424
2011: 18,906

Increase: 3,125
Years: 7
Avg. Increase: 446

Jackson: 75 mills
Hinds: 61 mills
Pearl: 59.5 mills
Clinton: 54.57 mills
Madison: 54.55 mills
Desoto: 53.6 mills
Rankin: 49.42

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Pearl school District was/is created by the City of Pearl. Why was this not addressed when the annexation took place?

Anonymous said...

The unspoken fear by Sturdivant et al: if this is successful then Flowood and the Reservoir areas might start making more noise about forming their own district.

Anonymous said...

At least these two school boards are honest - it's all about the money. "students mean dollars"

Seems like the best answer is one school district. Then we could eliminate the additional cost of fighting administrators, lawyers, board members and maybe start focusing on educating the kids.

Shadowfax said...

Count your blessings, Rankin. Consider Bolivar.

Anonymous said...

Pearl seperated from the district when the resevoir was built and when the houses were first built and there was no place for the kids to go to school. That is why they seperated from the County, to get the additional funding from the resevoir. Then came along Northwest and Pearl never went back to the Rankin County School District and if you bring it up in conversation you are told real quick that will never happen because the Pearl teachers and administration make more money than the Rankin County School District teachers and administration. This is wrong!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Pearl is a great district. The teachers may make more money which is a good thing but the administration does not. Pearl has long been a blue collar community. The entire city supports the school/school events with pride. The facilities are top notch. The academics are good, the band is good, the athletics are good. The district is full of good people. They are able to accomplish much because they have a can do attitude and they don't have to go through another level of politics. By the way, I never attended Pearl, don't have kids in Pearl and don't live in Pearl so this is not homecooking comments.

Anonymous said...

6:11 I agree with everything you said, and I, too, don't have kids or live in Pearl. Pearl has an excellent school system and certainly better than most other public schools. However, Pearl is Pearl and always will be Pearl, and there are many people who live in the new areas of Pearl who don't want to acknowledge they live in Pearl. They either use Brandon or Flowood in their address with the 39208 zip. I have seen it happen many, many times.

Anonymous said...

Pearl may be a great district. So may be NW Rankin, Rankin County, etc. etc. Question still is, why so many districts in Rankin County? You could still have great facilities, great bands, great athletics, and by gosh, maybe even great education - with less administration created by one district rather than many.

Anonymous said...

1:59 Seems you have inflated the problem in Rankin Co by assuming things you know nothing about.

"Why so many districts in Rankin Co?" "So many?" There are TWO, and the NW Rankin schools DO NOT have their own district. The only schools in Rankin Co. that have their own district are those in city of Pearl. They are in the PSDD.

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