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County schools may hire residency firm

Lincoln County schools appear to be getting ready to crack down on families who live in one school’s attendance zone, but send their children to another school.

The Lincoln County School District Board of Trustees on Monday gave superintendent Mickey Myers permission to begin negotiating with a third-party security vendor that would review student addresses and ferret out those illegally attending schools outside their attendance zones without board-approved transfers. Myers’ recommendation to the board is expected at the next meeting on Dec. 17.

“For different reasons, we’ve been under scrutiny for having students without legal transfers,” Myers said.

Myers said the district has run into problems with students illegally attending schools in cases with the secretary of state’s office, attorney general’s office and the department of education.

The most publicized exampled came in 2017, when the Mississippi High School Activities Association revoked Loyd Star’s 2A baseball title due to participation by student-athletes who lived in the attendance zones of other schools and were attending Loyd Star without board approval.

That incident kicked off a renewed effort in the district to verify students’ residency requirements, leading to a small round of transfers within and out of the district, Myers said.

Students who transfer into Lincoln County schools from another district need the approval of both districts’ school boards and must pay $600 in tuition.

Verifying students’ addresses has always been the responsibility of principals in the Lincoln County district, but Myers said the process is time-consuming and distracts administrators from focusing on their schools’ operations. He wants to contract with McComb-based Southwest Security, which provides the same residency verification services to the North Pike School District.

“Most districts that have residency issues employ some kind of security agency,” Myers said. “Our principals have enough to do.”

Myers also cautioned board members the district may reach a point where it has to stop granting out-of-district transfers altogether.

Myers went to bat earlier this year for a handful of Jefferson County students in the Union Church area who were attending Loyd Star with board approval when the Jefferson County School District threatened to cancel all releases. Jefferson County board members eventually backed down and granted releases to the Loyd Star students, but said it would not grant new releases in the future.

The dispute flared up because of school funding issues — the Mississippi Adequate Education Program ties funding to school attendance, and the Jefferson County school board took a hard line on granting releases after receiving $700,000 less for Fiscal Year 2019.

“Everyone around us has stopped granting releases, but we continue to do so,” he said. “We may have to look at our policy on releasing students in the near future. We release a significant number of students to other districts.”

The Lincoln County School District accepted 39 transfers in from the Brookhaven School District in 2018, while 132 county students transferred into Brookhaven.