Elected school board bill dies in state legislature

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, February 19, 2019

By SCOTT HAWKINS and BEN HILLYER

An elected school board for the Natchez-Adams School Board will not get Legislative approval this year after two bills that would have approved the measure died.

House Bill 668, introduced by District 97 Rep. Sam Mims V, R-McComb, died in committee on Feb. 5, and Senate Bill 2092, introduced by District 37 Sen. Bob Dearing, died on the calendar on Feb. 14.

“According to what the (Senate) chairman, Gary Tollison, told me when I asked him about it,” Dearing said, “he said he had heard a lot of controversy concerning an elected school board in Natchez, and he checked with the chairman in the House and he said it would be unlikely they would bring that out of committee.”

Dearing said Tollison told him the Legislature likely would pass a law in the near future making school boards throughout the state elected positions.

Both the Adams County Board of Supervisors and the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen have previously unanimously passed resolutions in support of an elected school board for the Natchez-Adams County School District.

District 4 Adams County Supervisor Ricky Gray said he was in favor of an elected school board.

“Ever since I have been on the board of aldermen and the board of supervisors,” Gray said, “we have unanimously voted for school board members to be elected. That is all we can do on the local level.”

Gray said it is up to local Legislators to get the bill passed on the state level. He said he is disappointed by the news that the bills have died in the Legislature.

“I feel that everybody, including school board members have to be held accountable,” Gray said, “especially if you are able to do the things school board members are able to do.”

District 1 Adams County Supervisor Mike Lazarus also expressed disappointment at the news.

“I think its unfortunate,” Lazarus said. “The city and the county both unanimously passed resolutions calling for an elected school board. I don’t know why it keeps dying. If they can raise taxes though, (school board members) ought to be elected. I am disappointed. I wish we could move forward.”

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he was not surprised by the news but nonetheless was disappointed.

“Rep. (Robert) Johnson at the Legislative breakfast a few weeks ago indicated that the delegation wasn’t going to support it,” Grennell said. “Ever since I’ve been in elected office since 1997 we’ve tried to get an elected school board.”

Grennell said he believes school board members should be elected positions because the school board can levy taxes.

“I’m disappointed because I’ve always pushed for an elected school board,” Grennell said, “because anytime a board has an ability to levy taxes, they should be elected.”

Natchez Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said he was disappointed to learn the measures had died.

“That’s a shame,” Dillard said upon hearing the news. “I think that was the will and intent of the citizens of Natchez … that is pretty much what the people of Natchez and Adams County had wanted.”

Dillard said he would like to know more about why the measured did not get a vote this year. Dillard also said you could argue the merits of whether an elected or appointed board is more effective, but he believes the Legislature should have had the opportunity to vote on the issue.

“It sounds to me like someone has predetermined it,” Dillard said. “The Senate needs to pass it to the House and let them vote on it.”

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux Mathis declined to comment on the matter.

In other matters at the state capitol, Dearing said Tuesday is Natchez Day at the state capitol.

“A delegation from Natchez will come up about 10 a.m. after the pledged of allegiance and the prayer and present the governor and speaker of the House a gift basket,” Dearing said. “Tamales and fudge.”