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School overcrowding causes some to sit on floor

School over crowding has been a problem in the Pearl River County School District since Hurricane Katrina, to the point that two elementary classes meet on an auditorium stage floor.
Concerned parent Madeline Speirs said her first grade child has been sitting on that floor during his class at the Pearl River Central Lower Elementary campus auditorium in McNeill. She said her son’s class is one of two classes that meet in the auditorium.
Pearl River County School District Superintendent Dennis Penton confirmed there are two classes that meet in the auditorium due to overcrowding at the school. The school is waiting on three double-wide trailers, or mobile units, ordered in May. Those units have yet to arrive and delivery has been postponed three times so far. The last time the units’ delivery was postponed was Monday morning, pushing their delivery from Wednesday to either Thursday or Friday, Penton said.
Penton said even though the winning bidder turned in a delivery date for the mobile units, once the bid has been awarded the school district has to wait until they arrive. Similar project bidding incidents have occurred in the past.
“When you’re in that process, you’re kind of at their mercy,” Penton said.
The mobile units were built to the school’s specifications and are completed but have yet to arrive, Penton said. The units are capable of supporting two classrooms each and have bathrooms in them.
A plumber and an electrician are both on hold so that when the units arrive utility work can be completed as soon as possible. The units should be able to house students four to five days after their arrival.
One of the trailers will house the pre-kindergarten class and will be placed where the old principal’s house used to be in McNeill. It was recently torn down because of its poor condition, Penton said.
Two more will be used to house lower elementary classes on that same campus, providing four more classrooms.
Other schools in the district have turned to mobile units to meet their overcrowding needs. The high school is using eight mobile units at the Carriere campus. There three teachers “float” between classrooms and serve about 75 students a day, Penton said. The middle school is dealing with about 200 extra students, not to mention the two classes meeting on the auditorium stage at the elementary.
“Its a bad situation having students on the stage. We’re doing everything in our power to get them out of that situation,” Penton said.
When the children are involved math and reading activities, they do it at tables. There is a large area rug for the children to sit on while coloring or doing other activities, Penton said.
“They’re not just down there on the hard floor,” Penton said. “If we had an option, any other option, we’d have them in classrooms.”
Speirs said she was especially distressed to hear that when the primary election took place in the auditorium earlier this month children were asked to be quiet. The school is a regular polling precinct.
Penton said the placement of polling places is determined by the election commissioners and the circuit court. However, for the upcoming runoff he said he will find an alternative place for the students if the mobile units are not ready by then.
To make room for more classrooms, all of the teacher work rooms and any other space that was available previously has been converted into a classroom.
“We’ve done some pretty creative things in the past with creating space,” Penton said.
A new school will allow the school to open those rooms up again and use them for their intended purpose, as well as make room for additional students.
To build the proposed new school, a bond issue election will need to be held to determine whether the taxpayers in the school district agree to a tax increase. According to a pamphlet provided by Penton to the Picayune Item, a home that averages at about $100,000 with a vehicle tag, no make, model or year specified, will cost that taxpayer an additional $58 a year.
A special election will be held Sept. 18 on the bond issue for the district to build a new elementary school in the Salem area. Penton said the bond issue was not added to the general election ballot or the primary election ballot because he said bonding attorneys have determined that bond issues usually get lost in larger elections.
Given the current conditions at the school, Speirs said she has no problem helping to provide more space for the students.
“It was a bad situation before Katrina hit, and that just made it worse,” Speirs said. “I would definitely vote for it because we need it.”
The school board needs a 60 percent or greater approval to proceed with building the new school. A concept drawing has already been composed.
If the election is in favor of building the new elementary school, it could be completed by the 2009-2010 school year, Penton said. How sewer and water services will be provided to the school has already been worked out. Center Water Association has agreed to provide water services and the Utility Authority has agreed to help. The proposed site for the new elementary school is on Salem Road, just down from Louise’s Barbecue, between Caesar Road and Miss. 43 North and is slated to be able to accommodate 600 to 700 students.
The addition of the new school will take some of the pressure off of the already stressed U.S. 11 during school hours. Adding more students to the Carriere campus will only compound the existing problem, Penton said.