By Alyssa Schnugg
A disagreement over a proposed contract between the Oxford and Lafayette County school boards could affect the future of the School of Applied Technology.
For years, the two school boards have jointly managed the School of Applied Technology or “The Tech.” Each district owns the building off Highway 7 and they share the costs of upkeep and maintenance.
A SAT Board made up of six members – three from each district – manages the school. Lafayette County School District has been responsible for the day-to-day oversight of operations, maintenance and personnel of the SAT and serves as its fiscal agent.
Earlier this year, the OSD was informed by its attorney, Paul Watkins, that the contract needed to be updated as the state’s laws have changed.
According to MS Code 37-31-73, “The agreements may provide for the establishment of regional education advisory councils to serve in an advisory capacity to regional education centers, to be made up of representatives of the board of trustees of school districts or community/junior college districts which may be parties to the agreement.”
In a new contract drawn up by the OSD and presented to the LCSD has the board serving as an advisory board “that will make recommendations (to each separate school board for approval) and provide oversight with respect to the SAT curriculum, personnel, and facilities.”
Previous contracts stated that the SAT Board will be “responsible for the development and oversight of the SAT curriculum and the improvement and oversight of the SAT physical plant.”
The Lafayette County school board rejected the new contract at its regular meeting earlier this month.
On Friday, the SAT Board met, along with Superintendents Brian Harvey, with the OSD, and Adam Pugh, with the LCSD, and SAT Director Joey Carpenter to discuss why the Lafayette school board members rejected the contract.
Pugh said the county’s school board attorney Shea Scott informed the county school board that in his interpretation, the SAT Board can continue to operate as it has for the last several years.
LCSD board member Bill McGregor said the SAT board needs to continue to be the one making decisions.
“We don’t talk about SAT matters at our regular board meetings,” he said. “SAT business needs to be discussed and decided by this (SAT) board and I think that’s how it needs to stay.”
The contract has to be approved as part of the overall Local Plan Update and sent to the Mississippi Department of Education by the end of May. If not, the current SAT board and consortium between the districts could dissolve.
During the meeting, Harvey said the OSD is moving toward adding more Carrier Technology Education courses with the goal of having its own program and moving away from the consortium between the two school districts.
“Long-term we’re going to have to have our own program,” Harvey said. “I do not think that means that the Oxford and Lafayette County districts cannot work together for the benefit of the students. I think there’s a way we can do that where we’re still able to share that facility. I’m saying dissolve the consortium as it exists and come up with another contractual agreement that allows for the programs and students to share the facilities.”
Pugh said that wasn’t what the LCSD “desired.”
“We like the situation and the way it is set up now,” he said.
Harvey said the OSD board does not.
“With all due respect, I don’t think we care for the arrangement that we’re currently in,” he said.
LCSD board members said they felt the proposed change to the agreement was made knowing it would not be approved to move forward with disbanding the consortium.
“If you wreck what we got, you’re messing it up for Lafayette County students,” McGregor said.
Harvey said he believes the agreement could include both school districts using The Tech facility and Lafayette students could attend whatever classes are being held at Oxford schools as well.
Pugh said there would be too many busing issues since the two school district’s scheduling varies, especially if the OSD moves toward block scheduling or year-round school.
“We haven’t made any decisions on that yet,” Harvey said.”Those are just things we put into our District of Innovation application.”
After a sometimes-heated hour-long discussion, the two boards agreed to have Pugh, Harvey, Carpenter and the two school district’s attorneys meet as soon as possible and then meet again on May 16.