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Rural Mississippi district sues to stop merger with neighboring school system

Legislature voted to consolidate the Montgomery County and Winona districts in 2018, but Montgomery County officials argue that Winona is already usurping control.

A rural Mississippi school district with fewer than 300 students has gone to court to block its scheduled merger next year with a neighboring school system.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports that the Montgomery County (Miss.) School District is seeking a  temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court against Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and several education officials, including State Superintendent Carey Wright and the state Board of Education.

Also named in the complaint is the Winona Municipal Separate School Board, the Montgomery County district's merger partner.

In 2016, the state legislature voted to consolidate the two districts into the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District, effective July 1, 2018. The Winona Municipal Separate School District has about 1,150 students.

Montgomery County school officials charge that the existing Winona School Board is illegally acting as the board for the soon-to-be consolidated school district.     

The Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School Board began conducting official board meetings in September, according to the brief. But Montgomery County contends that the consolidated board shouldn’t meet until July 1 when the consolidation takes place.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education pointed out that the law gives the existing Winona School Board the authority to act as the school board for the consolidated school district through the end of 2018. 

The filing also takes issue with the consolidated board’s composition.

Starting July 1, according to the brief,  three board members from the existing Winona School Board will be allotted seats on the consolidated school board.

Securing representation for Montgomery residents outside of the city limits of Winona will take longer. An election for those two seats won’t take place until Nov. 6, 2018, and the two elected members wouldn’t take office until the following January.

“In other words, (the) Winona Municipal Separate School District will govern the consolidated district from July 1, 2018, until Jan. 1, 2019,” the brief argues.  

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