Voters in the Leland School District rejected a bond measure in September when it failed to receive the necessary 60 percent of the vote for approval. The Leland School Board has set December 10 for a re-vote. 

The price of the bond to taxpayers will decrease from $8.75 million to $6.9 million, according to the Leland Progress

While some have used this to decry the crumbling facilities or complain about state funding, one major issue should be addressed before moving to others: The district had 776 students last year. 

That’s the size of a high school, or maybe one school, but you shouldn’t be expected to run and finance a school district of that size in a poor part of the state with little infrastructure. 

Because as some talk about the challenges the district faces, this school district spends among the most per student in the state. According to the last audit of the district, it spent $13,523 per student. The state provides about 57 percent of funding for the district. 

The cost per student and the state’s share of funding is considerably more than districts like Madison, Clinton, or Rankin. 

It’s also considerably more than tuition at nearby private schools: Washington School is $6,792 for high school, it’s $5,395 (for Catholic students) and $6,395 (for non-Catholic students) at St. Joseph Catholic School, $5,775 at Indianola Academy, and $5,600 at Greenville Christian School. And I am guessing they don’t have problems with leaking roofs or air conditioning despite being about half the price. 

Washington county’s population is about 46,000. It was over 72,000 in 1980. But it’s still home to four school districts. The Greenville School District is the largest with about 5,000 students. But you then have Western Line School District, with 1,851 students, the tiny Hollandale School District, with 581 students, and Leland. 

Washington county school districts

DistrictStudentsCost per student
Greenville School District4,955$9,367
Hollandale School District581$12,740
Leland School District776$13,523
Western Line School District1,851$10,641

Over the past eight years, the state legislature has adopted 10 separate consolidation bills impacting 21 different school districts. By 2021, the state will have 13 fewer school districts than in 2014.

Washington county has yet to be part of that mix. Local residents may love their local school districts. Local legislators will continue to fight as hard as they can. And a bond, if successful, will be funded by those local residents. 

However, at the end of the day, the school district gets the majority of its money from the state, meaning taxpayers throughout the state, not just Leland residents. And taxpayers have a right to know if their money is being spent wisely. A consistently underperforming school district with 776 kids that spends over $13,000 per student? I don’t know if that should be considered wise, especially when there are other options. 

Mississippi’s school districts are inefficient compared to other Southern states 

The issue isn’t just Leland. School districts in Mississippi serve a lower number of students, on average, than every other state in the Southeast, save for Arkansas. What does that mean? We are spending money on additional salaries, pensions, benefits, buildings, etc. that other states are not. This means less money in the classrooms.

StateTotal enrollmentTotal school districtsStudents per district
Florida2,721,4596740,619
North Carolina1,443,16311512,549
Virginia1,279,5441359,478
Georgia1,744,2401998,765
South Carolina718,322828,760
Tennessee960,7041426,766
Louisiana720,4581265,718
Alabama733,9511365,397
West Virginia281,439555,117
Kentucky685,1761733,961
Mississippi492,279151*3,260
Arkansas475,7822541,873

Source: National Education Association, “Rankings & Estimates 2014-2015”

The average district size among the 12 states was 9,467, almost three times the size of the average district in Mississippi. For Mississippi to be in line with that average, the state would need to see a reduction to 52 school districts, eliminating almost two-thirds of the districts in the state.

Florida is the biggest outlier in this group. Removing the Sunshine State from the mix would drop the average district size to 6,513. Even doing that, Mississippi would still need to drop to 75 districts to be at the average. That is a reduction of almost 50 percent.

Among neighboring states, if school districts in Mississippi were to serve the same number of students as school districts in Alabama, Mississippi would need to experience a reduction to 91 districts. To mirror Louisiana, Mississippi would need a reduction to 86 districts. And to match the same number of students per district as Tennessee, Mississippi would need a reduction to 73 districts. Either of these changes would represent a decrease of 40 to 50 percent of the districts in the state.

Additionally, the districts in Mississippi are largely unbalanced. Half of all public school students in the state attend school in one of just 28 school districts. Yet, 63 districts have less than 2,000 students and educate just 16 percent of students.

There is not a magic size for a district. There are poor performing large districts, starting with Jackson Public Schools, just as there are high-performing small districts. But this inefficient distribution of students, which results in excessive bureaucracy, costs taxpayers money and prevents dollars from making it to the classroom.

While there is overwhelming local pressure to oppose consolidation, the legislature should continue with the process of protecting taxpayer dollars and reducing the number of school districts in Mississippi.