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Oxford board favors I-42

Members of the Board of Trustees of the Oxford School District met Friday during a special called meeting to declare their endorsement of Initiative 42.

Four of the five sitting board members attended the meeting and voted unanimously to endorse I-42. Those attending were Whitney Byars, Scott Shipman, Gray Edmondson, and Marian Barksdale. Romana Reed was not at the meeting, however Barksdale said after speaking with her, Reed was “enthusiastic” about the board endorsing the initiative.

They met at the Barksdale-Isom House on Jefferson Street, a neutral place not owned by the school district. Superintendent Brian Harvey was not at the meeting.

“We wanted this to come just from the board members,” said Byars, board president. “We didn’t want any tax payer money to be used. We didn’t meet on district property to not even use electricity.”

The board then voted to run an advertisement announcing their decision in the Oxford EAGLE at the rate of $300 per day. The members agreed to pay for the ad out of their own pockets and voted to run the ad up to two times before the election. Barksdale said an anonymous donor has pledged $200 toward the price of the ad. The members would split the difference equally.

“We’ve talked about Initiative 42 and I think it’s been clear the board supports it, but we wanted to take an official action to let the community know how we stand,” Byars said at the start of the meeting.

The ad will list reasons why the board supports the initiative, that include how the school district has been underfunded by $11.9 million since 2009 and how local property taxes have been raised to cover insufficient state funds.

“When you look back 10 years, you can see where about 55 percent of the school’s funding came from the state,” Byars said. “The rest, about 45 percent came from local funding. Now, that’s flip-flopped.”

The ad asks voters to vote “Yes” to a constitutional amendment and “Yes” to Initiative 42. It will also list their views on what Initiative 42 will do for education.

On the ballot on Nov. 3, people will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on whether they support an initiative. Then, they will choose between Initiative 42 and Initiative 42-A. For either the initiative or the alternative to be adopted, it would need a majority of people voting on that question. The majority would need to equal at least 40 percent of the votes cast in that general election.

Initiative 42 would allow courts to force the Legislature to provide adequate funding for schools. The other, Initiative 42-A would leave those funding decisions up to the Legislature.

The state’s school budget formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, is designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. It has been fully funded only twice since a Democratic-controlled Legislature put it into law in 1997 over the veto of a Republican governor. Educators say the formula has been shortchanged by $1.5 billion over the past seven years.

A group called Better Schools, Better Jobs mobilized thousands of volunteers last year to collect signatures on petitions to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2015 ballot. Initiative 42 would require Mississippi to fund an “adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” If legislators fail to provide that, the proposal specifies that people could ask a chancery judge to order the state to provide the money.

Shortly after, the Legislator devised an alternative, Initiative 42-A to be put on the ballot.

Republican legislative leaders said they’re simply trying to give voters a better choice. Democrats say the alternative is designed to confuse people and create impossible conditions for either the initiative or the alternative to be adopted.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)