Mississippi governor OKs state takeover of Holmes schools

Published 6:15 am Friday, August 6, 2021

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that he is authorizing a state takeover of a troubled school district in one of the poorest parts of the state.

He announced his decision two days after the state Board of Education recommended that the state take control of the Holmes County Consolidated School District. An audit showed problems with financial management, academic achievement and student safety.

“This isn’t a decision I take lightly nor one I make with any delight,” Reeves wrote on Twitter.

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Classes for the new school year started Thursday in the Holmes district, which has about 2,500 students.
The school district filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block a takeover by arguing that the state Department of Education, the state Commission on School Accreditation and the state Board of Education had conducted “sham, unconstitutional proceedings” that violated the state’s own procedures and that had a predetermined outcome. A hearing on the lawsuit had not been scheduled before the governor acted Thursday.
The state Board of Education had said Tuesday that if the governor approves a takeover, the Department of Education will appoint Jennifer Wilson as interim superintendent and the current school board will be dissolved. Wilson is a former superintendent of Greenwood schools.

“This declaration of an extreme emergency situation within HCCSD will hopefully give the kids of this district a chance at success in life, because each one of them deserve nothing less,” Reeves wrote Thursday.
The state Department of Education conducted an onsite investigative audit of the Holmes County schools from April 27 to July 23.

The accreditation commission said Monday that an “extreme emergency” exists because of multiple problems found during the audit. Academic problems included use of curriculum that does not meet state standards and failure to identify students who need special education services. Safety problems included allowing kindergartners to use broken playground equipment.

Debra Powell has been the Holmes County superintendent since May 17. She told the state Board of Education on Tuesday that she has been working to make improvements.

“We are not who we used to be,” Powell said. “We have the right people in place.”

The most recent state report card, for the 2019-20 year, showed two of Holmes County’s six schools had a rating of F, and the other four had a rating of D. If the state takes over the district, an interim superintendent will remain on the job until the district has a grade of at least C for at least five years.

Holmes County has a population of about 17,000, down from about 19,000 in 2010. The Census Bureau says 33.8% of Holmes County residents live in poverty. That compares with Mississippi’s poverty rate of 19.6% and the national rate of 10.5%.