Report: Close 1 ag school, convert 1 and keep 1

Report: Close Hinds Agricultural High School, convert Coahoma school, preserve Forrest school

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- One of Mississippi's independent agricultural high schools would be closed under a recommendation by the state Board of Education, while another could see its mission reworked or be given to a local school district.

The board approved a report Thursday calling for the closure of Hinds Agricultural High School in Utica. The report calls for changing Coahoma Agricultural High School north of Clarksdale into an early college high school where students could earn a high school diploma and college credits. And it says Forrest County Agricultural High School in Brooklyn should continue as it is currently structured. All three now operate as independent school districts. The Hinds and Coahoma schools are run by community colleges, while the Forrest school has an independent board.

The Legislature mandated a report on consolidating the agricultural high schools in the 2012 session after turning back efforts to merge them. Lawmakers could move again to abolish them. Under two other scenarios, 20 percent of voters in a county could petition for a referendum to abolish an agricultural school, or districts could merge voluntarily.

The state Department of Education paid $6,000 to the Denver-based consulting firm of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates for the report. The same consulting firm produced a 2010 report on school consolidation produced by a commission appointed by then-Gov. Haley Barbour. At that time, the company said all three agricultural high school districts should be consolidated into the county school districts where they are located. That's what happened to Itawamba AHS, which was rolled into the Itawamba County school district in 1997.

Augenblick wrote that neither the Hinds nor the Coahoma schools have a specific focus on agriculture any more, while the Forrest school runs a farm and ranch. It also wrote that enrollment was falling at the Coahoma and Hinds schools while it has risen over the last seven years at the Forrest school. The Forrest school's academic outcomes are about average for the state, while Coahoma's are below average and Hinds' are among the very worst.

That combination of factors led the consultants to suggest closing the Hinds school.

However, they suggested a new birth for the Coahoma school, merging it and considering making it a dual-enrollment "early college high school" to keep its links with the community college.

Hinds Community College President Clyde Muse declined to comment, saying he hadn't read the report yet. Coahoma Community College President Vivian Presley could not be reached for comment.

The consultants suggested keeping the Forrest school, or even expanding it into a statewide agricultural high school that would take boarders, similar to the Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven or the Mississippi School for Math and Science in Columbus.

Thursday, state Board of Education members brought up another reason to keep the school. Board member Hal Gage of Vicksburg said the regular Forrest County district is already taxing property at the maximum rate allowed by law and that if the agricultural high school there were merged, an additional countywide tax could be lost, resulting in less tax revenue for the merged district.

"To me, that's a good enough reason to leave things as is," Gage said.

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