Ron Thorp, a member of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government, last week asked the Bay St. Louis City Council to change its system of appointing school board members to allow citizens to vote on candidates for the board.
“In (the) Hancock County (School District), people elect school board members,” Thorp said. “In Waveland, they elect school board members” to the Bay-Waveland School District. “In Bay St. Louis, board members are appointed.”
“This school board is spending money like you would not believe,” Thorp said, pointing to its recent decision to seek a $37.2 million capital improvements bond. “If the high school really is in as bad a shape as they say, the entire school board should resign.”
The bond issue — which the Bay-Waveland School District Board of Trustees first discussed in open session in September, includes what Superintendent Dr. Sandra Reed said at the time was a “wish list of all improvements needed in the district, whether it be renovation, all capital improvements throughout the district. … If you look at the items on the list, it’s not like building the Taj Mahal, but it’s an extensive list for every item that may be needed in the district. It includes mechanical, HVAC upgrades, renovations to wings, possible construction of new facilities. … It’s very extensive.”
Reed said the board was looking into the possibility of the bond issue to help supplement the federal Esser funds the district is getting as part the national CARES Act, which awards sub grants to local educational agencies to address the impact the COVID pandemic has had on them.
While the BWSD board okayed the process to seek the bond issue, it would have to be ultimately approved by the voters in a special election.
Thorp said he believes the citizens should have the right to elect board members, as well, so that they could have a little more say in what the board does.
Thorp praised the job Reed has done since she took office, and said that while he believes the board members are “good people, nice people,” he doesn’t believe they have properly done their “fiduciary duty on behalf of the city of Bay St. Louis.”
City attorney Heather Ladner Smith explained that the current system for naming school board members — with the Bay appointment its members and Waveland voters selecting theirs — goes back to the earliest days when the district was first formed.
Initially, the district was just for students in the city of Bay St. Louis, Smith said, and so — as a city district — the mayor nominated candidates and the city council approved them. Later, Waveland was “annexed” into the district, she said, and since Waveland had previously voted for members on the Hancock School Board, that practice was continued when it entered the city school district.
Any change to the system would have be made by the Mississippi Legislature, Smith said.
Mayor Mike Favre said the next appointment to the board is due in March 2022, when Trustee Vicky Arnold’s term expires.
Favre said the city would soon advertise for candidates.
Favre’s son, Casey Favre, is also an appointed member of the school board. He was first appointed by then-Mayor Les Fillingame, and Favre reappointed him at the end of his first term.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Thorp sent an email to all council members requesting that they “have the city’s legal counsel research and provide us with the steps, through whatever authority we need to go through, to have the election of school board members come to fruition.”
He asked that the information be made available to the public no later than the end of January 2022.
He also asked the council to reconsider the process needed to turn in the city’s charter to have a school system. With the idea of having one school system for Hancock County.”
Thorp and the Hancock Alliance for Good Government have advocated merging the two school districts for more than a decade.