Bay eyes merging school systems

The Bay St. Louis city attorney has been asked to explore the legal path to consolidating Hancock County’s two public school districts. The city council asked attorney Donald Rafferty Monday to look into the possibility after the subject was raised during a council meeting. Waveland resident Lana Noonan suggested the possibility after describing the Bay-Waveland district as “a run-away train” with “extravagant” salaries being paid to many administrators.

The Bay-Waveland district lost enrollment after Hurricane Katrina, and currently has about 1,700 students. The Hancock County district has about 4,400 students. The Hancock district did not raise taxes for the new school year, while the Bay-Waveland School Board voted for a 1.32-mill tax hike.

Both districts have been hard hit by deep cuts to educational spending at the state level.

Noonan also pointed out a disparity in pay levels for superintendents of the two districts. Bay-Waveland Superintendent Rebecca Ladner, who is appointed, makes $105,000 per year. She and other administrators, along with other district personnel, took pay cuts in the new budget.

Alan Dedeaux, superintendent of the Hancock County system, is paid $89,000 per year. He is elected to office.

Noonan, who was a sharp critic of the Bay-Waveland system during its recent budget hearing, said she also intends to ask Waveland officials to consider the merger idea. “Between the two school districts, you have only 6,200 students,” she said. “You would have to work very hard not to save money.”

City Councilman Bobby Compretta endorsed the merger concept: “I think that’s a great idea, and I’d like to see Mr. Rafferty give us an answer on that at our next meeting,” he said.

Mayor Les Fillingame said a merger would require state legislation.

Sherry Ponder, president of the Bay-Waveland School Board, said Tuesday that her board is not opposed to the proposal, “if that’s what the community determines is best for them.”

However, she said, “we think we’re providing a fine education for our community.”

The question did not arise Monday over which school district would dominate if the two were to merge. As for the prospect of Hancock County taking over the city system, Ponder said, “I don’t really think that’s the intent.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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