MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE

1997 Regular Session

To: Education; Appropriations

By: Representative McCoy

House Bill 1123

(As Sent to Governor)

AN ACT TO AMEND SECTION 37-17-6, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO REQUIRE SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO COMPLY WITH FIXED ASSETS AUDIT STANDARDS ESTABLISHED BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF AUDIT AS A MINIMUM REQUIREMENT FOR ACCREDITATION; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES. 

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:

SECTION 1. Section 37-17-6, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

37-17-6. (1) The State Board of Education, acting through the Commission on School Accreditation, shall establish and implement a permanent performance-based accreditation system, and all public elementary and secondary schools shall be accredited under the system.

(2) No later than June 30, 1995, the State Board of Education, acting through the Commission on School Accreditation, shall require school districts to provide school classroom space that is air conditioned as a minimum requirement for accreditation.

(3) (a) Beginning with the 1994-1995 school year, the State Board of Education, acting through the Commission on School Accreditation, shall require as a minimum requirement for Level III, IV and V accreditation, that school districts employ certified school librarians according to the following formula:

Number of Students Number of Certified

Per School Library School Librarians

0 - 499 Students 2 Full-time Equivalent Certified Librarian

500 or More Students 1 Full-time Certified Librarian

(b) The State Board of Education, however, may increase the number of positions beyond the above requirements.

(c) The assignment of such school librarians to the particular schools shall be at the discretion of the local school district. No individual shall be employed as a certified school librarian without appropriate training and certification as a school librarian by the State Department of Education.

(d) To qualify for Level III accreditation, school librarians in such district shall spend at least fifty percent (50%) of direct work time in a school library and shall devote no more than one-fourth (1/4) of the work day to administrative activities which are library related.

(e) Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit any school district from employing more certified school librarians than are provided for in this section.

(f) Any additional millage levied to fund school librarians required for accreditation under this subsection shall be included in the tax increase limitation set forth in Sections 37-57-105 and 37-57-107 and shall not be deemed a new program for purposes of the limitation.

(4) On or before July 1, 1994, the State Board of Education shall implement the performance-based accreditation system which shall include school performance standards that are comparable to any national standards which may be established. The system shall establish rigorous minimum standards; establish levels above the minimum which demand exemplary performance; hold all school districts accountable for their students' educational progress; and establish strict measures for those districts which fail to meet minimum standards.

(5) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to require a nonpublic school which receives no local, state or federal funds for support to become accredited by the State Board of Education.

(6) The State Board of Education shall create an accreditation audit unit under the Commission on School Accreditation. This audit unit shall be made up of full-time employees of the State Department of Education who are trained as accreditation auditors. This audit unit shall conduct field audits of schools on a random basis or when ordered by the Commission on School Accreditation, to determine whether schools are complying with accreditation standards. The audit unit shall also train the evaluators set forth in subsection (3) of this section. The audit unit shall report directly to the Commission on School Accreditation on the result of all audits.

(7) The State Board of Education shall be specifically authorized and empowered to withhold adequate minimum education program or adequate education program fund allocations, whichever is applicable, to any public school district for failure to timely report student, school personnel and fiscal data necessary to meet state and/or federal requirements.

(8) The Commission on School Accreditation shall select, approve, train and assign all evaluators who conduct on-site accreditation reviews. Prior to this action, the commission shall have established guidelines and criteria for the selection and training of all evaluators and shall have obtained the approval of the State Board of Education of these guidelines and criteria. All on-site accreditation reviews shall be submitted directly to the Commission on School Accreditation.

(9) The State Board of Education shall establish, for those schools failing to meet accreditation standards, a program of development to be complied with in order to receive state funds, except as otherwise provided in subsection (14) of this section when the Governor has declared a state of emergency in a school district or as otherwise provided in Section 206, Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The state board, in establishing these standards, shall provide for notice to schools and sufficient time and aid to enable schools to attempt to meet these standards, unless procedures under subsection (14) of this section have been invoked.

(10) The State Board of Education shall be charged with the implementation of the program of development in each applicable school district as follows:

(a) Develop an impairment report for each district failing to meet accreditation standards in conjunction with school district officials, no later than the end of the school year, and make recommendations for corrective actions to remove the impairment status;

(b) Notify the school district failing to meet accreditation standards that it is on probation until the recommendations for corrective action are taken or until the deficiencies have been removed. The probationary period of time shall be negotiated by the local school district and the State Board of Education. However, the decision of the State Board of Education establishing the probationary period of time shall be final;

(c) Offer, during the probationary period, technical assistance to the school district in making corrective actions;

(d) Contract, in its discretion, with the institutions of higher learning to develop corrective action plans for schools placed on probation;

(e) Provide for publication of public notice at least one (1) time during the probationary period, in a newspaper published within the jurisdiction of the school district failing to meet accreditation standards, or if no newspaper is published therein, then in a newspaper having a general circulation therein. The publication shall include the following: declaration of school system's status as being on probation; all details relating to the impairment report, length of probationary period, and corrective action recommendations made. Public notices issued under this section shall be subject to Section 13-3-31 and not contrary to other laws regarding newspaper publication.

(11) If the recommendations for corrective action are not taken by the local school district or if the deficiencies are not removed by the end of the probationary period, the Commission on School Accreditation shall conduct a hearing to allow such affected school district to present evidence or other reasons why its accreditation should not be withdrawn. Subsequent to its consideration of the results of such hearing, the Commission on School Accreditation shall be authorized, with the approval of the State Board of Education, to withdraw the accreditation of a public school district, and issue a request to the Governor that a state of emergency be declared in that district which would allow the State Board of Education to select from the following actions:

(a) Declare a state of emergency, under which some or all of state funds can be escrowed except as otherwise provided in Section 206, Constitution of 1890, until the board determines corrective actions are being taken or the deficiencies have been removed, or that the needs of students warrant the release of funds. Such funds may be released from escrow for any program which the board determines to have been restored to standard even though the state of emergency may not as yet be terminated for the district as a whole;

(b) Override any decision of the local school board concerning the establishment of the budget and expenditures until the State Department of Audit declares the school district fiscally solvent, if the district's deficiencies are related to the fact that the district did not operate in a fiscally sound manner;

(c) Assign an interim "conservator" who will administer the management and operation of the school system through the school superintendent until corrective actions are implemented or the deficiencies are removed. The school superintendent of a deficient school shall comply fully with the conservator appointed by the State Board of Education;

(d) If the district's accreditation deficiencies are related to the fact that a particular school lacks the resources to meet these standards, grant transfers to students who attend this school so that they may attend other accredited schools in a manner which is not in violation of state or federal law;

(e) If the accreditation deficiencies are related to the fact that the school district is too small, with too few resources, to meet the required standards and if another school district is willing to accept those students, abolish that district and assign that territory to another school district or districts. If the school district has proposed a voluntary consolidation with another school district or districts, then if the State Board of Education finds that it is in the best interest of the pupils of the district for such consolidation to proceed, the voluntary consolidation shall have priority over any such assignment of territory by the State Board of Education.

(12) The Commission on School Accreditation shall be responsible for public notice at least once a week for at least three (3) consecutive weeks, after a state of emergency has been declared, in a newspaper published within the jurisdiction of the school district failing to meet accreditation standards, or if no newspaper is published therein, then in a newspaper having a general circulation therein. The size of such notice shall be no smaller than one-fourth (1/4) of a standard newspaper page and shall be printed in bold print. Such notice shall begin as follows: "By authority of Section 37-17-6, Mississippi Code of 1972, adopted by the Mississippi Legislature during the 1991 Regular Session, this school district (name of school district) is hereby placed under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Education acting through its appointed conservator (name of conservator)."

The notice shall also include all details relating to the school district's emergency status including impairment deficiencies, conditions of conservatorship and corrective actions recommended. Public notices issued under this section shall be subject to Section 13-3-31 and not contrary to other laws regarding newspaper publication.

(13) The State Board of Education or the Commission on School Accreditation shall have the authority to require school districts to produce the necessary reports, correspondence, financial statements, and any other documents and information necessary to fulfill the requirements of this section.

Nothing in this section shall be construed to grant any individual, corporation, board or conservator the authority to levy taxes except in accordance with presently existing statutory provisions.

(14) If the State Board of Education and the Commission on School Accreditation determine that an extreme emergency situation exists in a school district which jeopardizes the safety, security or educational interests of the children enrolled in the schools in that district and such emergency situation is believed to be related to a serious violation or violations of accreditation standards or state or federal law, the State Board of Education, with the concurrence of the State Auditor, may request the Governor to declare a state of emergency in that school district. For purposes of this subsection, such declarations of a state of emergency shall not be limited to those instances when a school district's impairments are related to a lack of financial resources, but also shall include serious failure to meet minimum academic standards, as evidenced by a continued pattern of poor student performance. During the state of emergency, the State Board of Education shall take such action as prescribed in Section 37-17-13 and may take one or more of the following actions:

(a) Assign an interim conservator who will be responsible for the administration, management and operation of the school district, including, but not limited to, the following activities:

(i) Approving or disapproving all financial obligations of the district, including, but not limited to, the employment, termination, nonrenewal and reassignment of all certified and noncertified personnel, contractual agreements and purchase orders, and approving or disapproving all claim dockets and the issuance of checks; in approving or disapproving employment contracts of superintendents, assistant superintendents or principals, the interim conservator shall not be required to comply with the time limitations prescribed in Sections 37-9-15 and 37-9-105;

(ii) Supervising the day-to-day activities of the district's staff, including reassigning the duties and responsibilities of personnel in a manner which, in the determination of the conservator, will best suit the needs of the district;

(iii) Reviewing the district's total financial obligations and operations and making recommendations to the district for cost savings, including, but not limited to, reassigning the duties and responsibilities of staff;

(iv) Attending all meetings of the district's school board and administrative staff;

(v) Approving or disapproving all athletic, band and other extracurricular activities and any matters related to those activities;

(vi) Maintaining a detailed account of recommendations made to the district and actions taken in response to those recommendations; and

(vii) Reporting periodically to the State Board of Education on the progress or lack of progress being made in the district to improve the district's impairments during the state of emergency;

(b) Override any decision of the local school board or superintendent of education, or both, relating to the administration and operation of the school district;

(c) Reduce local supplements paid to school district employees, including, but not limited to, instructional personnel, assistant reading instructors and extracurricular activities personnel, if the district's impairment is related to a lack of financial resources, but only to an extent which will result in the salaries being comparable to districts similarly situated, as determined by the State Board of Education; and

(d) Require the production of the necessary reports, correspondence, financial statements and any other documents or information necessary to ascertain the extent of the district's deficiencies and the corrective action required to remove the district's impairment status.

Upon the declaration of a state of emergency in a school district under this subsection, the State Board of Education shall cause notice to be published for at least three (3) consecutive weeks in a newspaper published within the jurisdiction of that school district, or if no newspaper is published therein, in a newspaper having a general circulation in the school district. The notice shall be no smaller than one-fourth (1/4) of a standard newspaper page and shall be printed in bold print in a section other than the legal notices section of the newspaper. The notice shall include, in the discretion of the State Board of Education, any or all details relating to the district's emergency status, including the declaration of a state of emergency in the school district and a description of the district's impairment deficiencies and corrective actions recommended and being taken in the emergency situation.

In order to provide loans to school districts under a state of emergency which have impairments related to a lack of financial resources, the School District Emergency Assistance Fund is created as a special fund in the State Treasury into which monies may be transferred or appropriated by the Legislature from any available public education funds. The maximum amount that may be appropriated or transferred to the School District Emergency Assistance Fund for any one (1) emergency shall be Two Million Dollars ($2,000,000.00), and the maximum amount that may be appropriated during any fiscal year shall be Three Million Dollars ($3,000,000.00).

The State Board of Education may loan monies from the School District Emergency Assistance Fund to a school district that is under a state of emergency in such amounts, as determined by the board, which are necessary to correct the district's impairments related to a lack of financial resources. The loans shall be evidenced by an agreement between the school district and the State Board of Education and shall be repayable in principal, without necessity of interest, to the State General Fund or the Education Enhancement Fund, depending on the source of funding for such loan, by the school district from any allowable funds that are available. The total amount loaned to the district shall be due and payable within five (5) years after the impairments related to a lack of financial resources are corrected. If a school district fails to make payments on the loan in accordance with the terms of the agreement between the district and the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, in accordance with rules and regulations established by the State Board of Education, may withhold that district's minimum program funds in an amount and manner that will effectuate repayment consistent with the terms of the agreement; such funds withheld by the department shall be deposited into the State General Fund or the Education Enhancement Fund, as the case may be.

If the State Board of Education determines that an extreme emergency exists, simultaneous with the powers exercised in this subsection, it shall take immediate action against all parties responsible for the affected school districts having been determined to be in an extreme emergency. Such action shall include, but not be limited to, initiating civil actions to recover funds and criminal actions to account for criminal activity. Any funds recovered by the State Auditor or the State Board of Education from the surety bonds of school officials or from any civil action brought under this subsection shall be applied toward the repayment of any loan made to a school district hereunder.

A declaration by the Governor that a state of emergency exists in a school district under this subsection shall have no effect on the requirements set forth in subsections (9) through (12) of this section. During the period of a state of emergency declared under this subsection, the State Board of Education may proceed under the authority of subsections (9) through (12) of this section. If a provision in this subsection directly conflicts with a provision in subsection (9), (10), (11) or (12), during the state of emergency, this subsection shall prevail.

(15) In the event a majority of the membership of the school board of any school district resigns from office, the State Board of Education shall be authorized to assign an interim conservator, who shall be responsible for the administration, management and operation of the school district until such time as new board members are selected or the Governor declares a state of emergency in that school district under subsection (14), whichever occurs first. In such case, the State Board of Education, acting through the interim conservator, shall have all powers which were held by the previously existing school board, and may take such action as prescribed in Section 37-17-13 and/or one or more of the actions authorized in subsection (14)(a) through (d) of this section.

(16) Beginning with the school district audits conducted for the 1997-1998 fiscal year, the State Board of Education, acting through the Commission on School Accreditation, shall require each school district to comply with standards established by the State Department of Audit for the verification of fixed assets and the auditing of fixed assets records as a minimum requirement for accreditation.

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 1997.