Second public school forum held

Second public school forum held


A second meeting addressing the public schools took place last Monday night.

Organized by Lee Smith, the meeting took place at the Senior Citizen’s building at Northside Park with about 30 people in attendance.

The meeting began with a prayer followed by the presentation of the agenda and opening remarks by Smith, 30,  a local sales professional in the construction equipment industry and a PHS graduate who hosts a homespun podcast “The County Line: Lee Carl and Friends” that focuses on issues in the community.

“The purpose of this education forum is to take inventory of the views, concerns, ideas, and suggestions from all citizens of Philadelphia and Neshoba County regarding the current state and future of education in our community,” Smith said. “Through these meetings, we are aiming to create an environment in which people feel at ease to freely express their true beliefs.”

Smith said there are two main goals he hopes to achieve as a result of the discussions. 

The first goal is to form a coalition of community members committed to ensuring the best possible educational structure for Philadelphia and Neshoba County given the resources and existing laws.

The second goal is to gather opinions, research, insights, and resources to develop a comprehensive roadmap for the future educational structure in the community.

“The word consolidation has been thrown around, and obviously it’s a component of this conversation,” Smith said. “We aren’t going to have this conversation without that being a topic that’s discussed. However, the coalition’s intent will not be to rush toward consolidation. Due diligence will be done to ensure the best possible educational structure is implemented.”

Smith said his motivation is that every child deserves the highest-quality education a community is capable of offering. The best education isn't being provided uniformly by both schools, he said.

Grace Breazeale, a K-12 policy associate at Mississippi First, an education public policy advocacy organization based in Jackson, presented her research on education in the state and its impact on both the Philadelphia and Neshoba County school districts.

Breazeale's presentation, citing data from the Mississippi Department of Education, revealed declining student enrollments in both districts over the past decade. 

Neshoba Central experienced a 6.6 percent enrollment decline, while Philadelphia has experienced a 37.2 percent decline. 

The overall enrollment decline in Mississippi for the decade was 11.6 percent, and could be attributed to outmigration from the state, declining birth rates, and an increased participation in alternative schooling options like home schools and private schools, she said.

Her presentation also showed that while student enrollment fell, the number of teachers employed by each school district increased between 2017 and 2023, but even so, the Philadelphia district has a critical teacher shortage with a relatively low percentage of experienced teachers with four plus years of experience and in-field teachers who are endorsed in the subject they teach compared to Neshoba.

Falling enrollment, paired with increased hiring, can have financial consequences, according to the data she presented. As enrollment falls, schools receive less funding. 

Federal ESSER funds have been used over the last several years to fill in gaps caused by falling enrollment, but the final round of ESSER funds must be committed by September of this year. The impact of decreased funding could pose financial challenges in both districts, her presentation showed.

While discussing school consolidation, Breazeale noted potential benefits such as increased access to educational opportunities and resources, but stressed that consolidation is not a one-size-fits-all solution and that there is no decisive evidence that doing so either positively or negatively impacts academic performance.

She concluded by saying logistics such as transportation, facilities, and the role each district plays should be considered.

During an open discussion where attendees were allotted three minutes to voice their opinions, some raised concerns about consolidation, each school’s performance, population decline, job opportunities, race issues, property values, and more. 

Two people discussed the millions of dollars lost by the Philadelphia district with over 200 children “illegally” attending Neshoba Central and argued that Philadelphia has been an overall improving district in recent years. 

Many expressed skepticism about consolidation as a viable solution, while others questioned even continuing meetings, especially given the reluctance of both school boards and the state to pursue combining resources or consolidation in the near future.

A third meeting had not been scheduled, Smith said on Monday.

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