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Mississippi editorial roundup

October 23, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Oct. 23

The (Columbus) Dispatch on school districts selecting superintendents without public participation:

In March 2016, the Mississippi Legislature changed the way public school districts select their superintendents, a change that will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Until now, school districts had the option of allowing voters in the school district to elect the superintendent or have that choice made by the school board. The option for electing superintendents was removed, which means all superintendents are chosen by the school board. For LCSD, it will be the first time the board will choose a superintendent.

Among the candidates for the job is Lynn Wright, whose second term as superintendent expires on Dec. 31.

The law was intended to provide school districts with a deeper pool of candidates, allowing for state-wide and national searches for qualified candidates.

What the law was not intended to do was to eliminate all public participation in the process.

Yet this unintended consequence appears to be unfolding with LCSD’s search.

To date, the school board has shared virtually no information about the search with the district’s stakeholders -- parents, teachers, staff, student or taxpayers. All we have been told is that 15 candidates were presented to the board and that seven of those candidates are still in consideration.

The board expects to narrow that field to three or four finalists, but unless the board alters its plans, the public will never know who the finalists were, let alone have the opportunity to hear the finalists make their cases for the job through a public forum, which is standard practice.

Instead, the board will hold what it calls a “limited public forum” on Nov. 12. Each board member will bring three hand-picked county residents to meet with the candidates, ask questions and rate them. The broader public will have the opportunity to submit questions to the hand-picked residents. The information will be given to the board to help with their selection.

That means just 15 people -- all of whom are selected by board members -- will represent thousands of stakeholders.

As it stands, the only thing 99.99% of the people who live in the school district may ever know about the search is who is ultimately chosen for the job.

We understand the unique situation in play here. It’s rare that a sitting superintendent would be a part of such a search, after all. We further understand that much of the public is divided into pro-Wright and anti-Wright camps. Certainly, not opening itself up to that sort of scrutiny is something that would greatly relieve the pressure that is applied to board members. But this is the job board members signed up for. Avoiding unpleasant scrutiny should not be the board’s primary concern, as it appears to be in this case.

While the new law does give the school board the full responsibility for choosing a superintendent, we cannot imagine that it was the Legislature’s intent to eliminate virtually all meaningful public participation in that decision.

We urge the board to reconsider, make the names of the finalists known to the community and make those finalists available to all citizen stakeholders through a forum that is open to everyone.

Failing to do so is a slap in the face to all who have a vested interested in this important decision.

It’s worth remembering, that while superintendents are now appointed, school board members are chosen through elections.

That’s something the LCSD board members should keep in mind if they persist in this closed-door selection process.

Online: https://www.cdispatch.com

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Oct. 18

The (Tupelo) Daily Journal on resource officers in schools:

The world we are living in today is quite different from the one of decades ago and, unfortunately, there are still many issues that disrupt school security and bring parents new worries.

Schools are an essential part of children’s lives and are meant to be a safe place. Violence on school campuses has become almost commonplace in our country. It’s a scary time to have kids in school - bullying, fighting, and shootings have become a constant reminder that child safety requires our attention.

The Lee County School District (LCSD) has taken the appropriate and necessary steps to place dedicated school resource officers on each campus as part of a multi-million dollar security upgrade plan, according to Daily Journal staff writer Blake Alsup.

Thirteen security officers are now present across all campuses in the district, made possible by a joint effort with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department. The LCS Security Task Force includes both sheriffs’ deputies who are certified to make arrests anywhere in Lee County and school resource officers hired by the district that can make arrests only on school grounds.

According to LCSD superintendent Jimmy Weeks, the new officer additions are part of a $2 million security plan that has been in the works for around a year and a half. Besides the new task force, other security measures like door lock and camera systems are in place. There are plans for upgrades like adding security film on critical doors and windows and installing additional fencing, signage and lighting across the district.

Protecting our students, as well as the faculty, should always be a priority, which is why campus security is more important now than ever.

The extent to which the LCSD seeks to proactively discourage and stop violence and provide a sense of security builds confidence. The expense of this plan is an investment in the safety of all children in Lee County.

Online: https://www.djournal.com

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Oct. 17

The Greenwood Commonwealth on relocating the Jackson Zoo:

The ongoing budget problems associated with the Jackson Zoo came to a head this month with the city of Jackson taking over the zoo from the Jackson Zoological Society, which had run the zoo for 35 years. Things had gotten so bad, the society had failed to pay its city water bill, running up an unpaid balance of $6 million.

Unfortunately, Mississippi’s capital city is not in a financial position to take on new problems, evidenced by its desire to treat 20 zoo workers as independent contractors rather than full-time employees until a contract is approved with ZoOceanarium Group to run the zoo. Not only is this strategy probably in violation of employment laws, it’s unfair to the zoo employees, many of whom have worked there for decades.

Zoos have always relied on government subsidies. Many of the buildings at the Jackson Zoo were first erected under the Works Progress Administration program during the Great Depression. The Jackson Zoo has always relied on a combination of city, state and federal funds to supplement admission tickets and charitable contributions.

When Jackson was booming, it could be the major funder of the zoo. But times have changed. Suburban flight has eroded the tax base of Jackson, while Rankin and Madison counties have boomed. The Jackson Zoo needs a new location and a new funding mechanism, either through the state or a tri-county agreement.

It’s hard to walk away from a lost investment, but the current zoo location will never do. It’s in a rough neighborhood that discourages visitors.

Lefleur’s Bluff State Park has been proposed as a suitable new site. The location is well-situated geographically, being at the intersection of I-55 and Mississippi 25, both busy six-lane traffic arteries. The zoo could be promoted in conjunction with two other nearby attractions, the Mississippi Children’s Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, as well as the beautiful walking trails at the park. The zoo could take the place of the park’s nine-hole golf course, which is rarely used because it is so poorly maintained.

Jackson cannot afford to run the zoo. Ultimately, the option will be to close it or to relocate it with a new source of state and/or regional funding. The situation begs for a leader to take the initiative to make this happen.

Surely among the mayors, supervisors, City Council members, legislators, state elected officials and state agency heads in and around Jackson, there must be someone willing to step up.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com