Hancock School District defers consolidation decision
By Dwayne Bremer, Staff Writer
Jul 14, 2017, 16:23
The Hancock County School Board on Tuesday was non-committal to a request to attend a meeting to discuss consolidating its administration with the Bay-Waveland School Districts.
Over the past six months, Bay St. Louis resident Ron Thorp and a group of volunteers have done extensive research on the possibility of consolidation of the two school districts, and recently, completed a report on their findings.
Over the past month, Thorpe presented the results of the report to the Hancock County Board of Supervisors, the Bay St. Louis City Council, and the Bay-Wavelnd School District.
According to the report, an administrative consolidation of the two school districts could save county taxpayers millions of dollars each year; allow the school district to purchase better equipment; and recruit new teachers to the district.
To do that, the two school district would have to cut many jobs including administrators and assistants, an attorney, and five elected officials.
On Tuesday, Thorp presented the findings to members of the Hancock County school board.
School board member Danita Holliday asked how the group believed the school district could save on insurance costs with the same number of facilities to run.
Thorp said some duplicate facilities would need to be "deactivated or closed," since they would no longer be needed. He pointed to the Bay-Waveland School District's new administrative offices as an example.
Hancock County School District Attorney Mark Alexander and Bay-Waveland School District Attorney Ronnie Artigues both said this that there may be an issue with closing facilities because of governmental rules which may force the school district to repay FEMA millions if the federally-funded facility were to close.
Thorpe said Wednesday that he is aware of the FEMA rule, but he believes there is only a five-year window and after that, no reimbursement would be required.
Thorpe also said that the consolidated district offices would have to be north of the interstate because "that is where the population is."
The Hancock County School District is nearly two-and-a-half times bigger than the Bay-Waveland School district.
Hancock's enrollment is 4,500 students and Bay-Waveland is about 1,800, Thorpe said.
Despite Hancock being much larger, many department budgetary numbers for the school districts are similar, and in some cases, administrators with the smaller Bay-Waveland School District are paid higher salaries.
Economics aside, students of both districts have performed well in state testing in the past decade, scoring well above state averages.
During another exchange Tuesday, Holiday said she believed administrators at her district are already "stretched thin" and adding 1,800 students through consolidation, but keeping the same number of administrators, would be difficult.
Superintendent Alan Dedeaux agreed.
"Most of us here are already wearing two hats and doing other duties," he said.
Thorp said he understood there would be questions and he called for a joint meeting with the Bay-Waveland school district and all of the cities to discuss the plan and resolve any disagreements.
Hancock school board member Richard Loper said he believed the consolidation group was trying to woo the cities and the counties too much. He pointed to part of the report which suggested the board of supervisors send a representative to each school board meeting.
"I don't think it is necessary that they should appoint someone to come up here and try to police us every month," Loper said. "We are not trying to hide anything, but this is our board."
Thorp then asked the board if each individual member would give his or her opinion on the meeting.
Board President Jennifer Seal said the board had not had a chance to fully review the report and it would be better if the board spoke as a whole.
She said the board will provide an answer in writing after it had discussed the report and request for a joint meeting further.
Seal said Thursday that she expects to have an official response to Thorp's request by the board's next meeting in August.
Neither school district sanctioned, endorsed or participated in the report.
Thorp said the reason the report was produced was to provide local leaders with the "most accurate information available."
He said he and others will continue to push for the consolidation and try to rally public support.
"We want them to be able to make an informed decision on what is best for everyone in Hancock County," he said. "It's the right thing to do and it should be done," he said.