Mississippi school district continues path to local control

JACKSON, Miss (AP) — A Mississippi school district transitioning back to local control after years of state conservatorship will have five new board members.

On Thursday, the Mississippi State Board of Education announced the appointments to the advisory board for the Tunica County School District. The move was a step forward in an 18-month process of returning the north Mississippi district to local officials.

The district has been under state conservatorship since 2015 after audits revealed it had violated 25 of the 31 accreditation standards reviewed by the Mississippi Department of Education. Serious deficiencies were found in special education, federal programs, instructional programs, career technical education and district governance, state officials said.

These findings prompted former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to declare a state of emergency, putting the district under the control of an interim superintendent, Dr. Margie Pulley. State officials said Pulley brought all accreditation standards into compliance. The district saw growth in math and English test scores, especially among the lowest-performing students.

State law gives the state board authority to return a state-run district to local control when it has corrected all its deficiencies and improved its academic performance.

In July, the state board voted to begin winding down the conservatorship. The process began with selecting applicants to serve on the local school board.

“An effective advisory board is critical to maintaining the success of the Tunica County School District and ensuring students continue to receive the high-quality education they deserve,” said Dr. Kim Benton, interim state superintendent of education.

The new board members include a former auditor for the State of Mississippi Department of Audit, a pastor for a local church and a New York Life Insurance agent.

The appointed members will serve in an advisory role to Pulley during the 2023 calendar year. They will serve as voting school board members beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, when the district is expected to return to local control. After 2024, the board members would need to be elected to keep their seats.