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Bond issue up for vote for new PRC School

A special election on a bond issue for the Pearl River County School District is set for Tuesday, Sept. 18, for voters living in the school district. The proposed $10.5 million bond, which has been approved by the district’s school board, is to provide the funds for a new K-6 elementary school to be built in the Salem community.

In an interview Wednesday, District Superintendent Dennis Penton said there are numerous reasons a new elementary school is needed in the district.

“One of the main reasons we need a new school is because of the overcrowding problem at Carriere and McNeill campuses,” Penton said. “Currently, we have 1,747 students enrolled in grades K-6.”

Since school started in early August, overcrowding has been a problem in all grades, manifesting in several places. For example, three of the teachers at PRC High School in Carriere have been “floating,” or moving from classroom to classroom at the school, carrying their materials and belongings with them on carts.

Penton said when the new school is built, the sixth grade classes will be divided between the new campus and the McNeill campus, freeing about 12 classrooms at the Carriere campus.

At the elementary school in McNeill, two first-grade classes have been meeting on the stage in the auditorium and using the auditorium seats to store their backpacks.

First grade teacher Sharman Lumpkin said it is not easy teaching two classes at the same time.

“Luckily, the other teacher is a good friend of mine, so we ‘team-teach’ the students. When one of us is teaching the students, the other three (the other teacher plus two assistants) are going around working with the students,” Lumpkin said.

Penton said the two classes will move into portable classrooms as soon as the classrooms are set up properly, but that it still will not solve the problem.

He said between the trailers that the school received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and trailers that the school has purchased, there are now nine trailers divided between the two campuses. Three trailers have recently been placed in McNeill, while the other six are in use at the Carriere campus.

“The portable trailers cost approximately $70,000 each, and have a life span of less than 10 years,” Penton said. “We have to move children out of those trailers every time there is bad weather. Those trailers are costing money that could be spent towards a new school.”

Another benefit of a new school is that it would lessen the strain on the schools’ infrastructure, such as in the cafeteria areas.

“These cafeterias were built to service only a certain number of students. When you have more than that number, you have to serve meals earlier and later in the day to accommodate the extra students,” Penton said.

Penton said a new school also will ease some of the traffic problems at the two other schools, although he acknowledges it will not eliminate the traffic problem completely. The new school also will shorten bus routes for many elementary students in the southeast portion of the county, where the school is to be built.

When asked why the proposal is for an elementary school, rather than another high school, Penton gave two reasons.

“First, the elementary grades are where the bulk of the growth is at this time. Second, economically, an elementary school is the most feasible option for our school district. It costs less per student to build an elementary school than it would to build a new high school. Right now, we don’t have the ability to borrow enough for a new high school under current state laws,” Penton said.

Penton said the Salem area has been chosen because the school owns 16th-section land in the area, and “it is the area of the largest concentration of new homes and student population.”

Penton said the bonds will cost the average homeowner of a home valued at $100,000 and one vehicle approximately $58 more per year in taxes and car tags.

The new school is designed to be community friendly by including an after-school library and a multi-purpose auditorium that will be for public use as well as school functions. The school also will double as an emergency shelter during disasters.

“We will pay for the base school, and then we will receive funds from FEMA to upgrade the building to shelter specifications,” Penton said.

Penton said he has heard some opposition to the project, but not much.

“Mainly, what I’ve heard is more questions that people needed answered rather than opposition to the new school,” he said. The biggest concern he has heard voiced, he said, was about the need for a new high school in the county.

“We need to build a new high school in the future. There’s no doubt about that, and I’m not arguing that fact. However, the immediate need is for an elementary school, which we can afford to build with the available funds. … (A new elementary school) is the best first step at this time,” he said.

Residents living within the Pearl River County School District may vote on the bond issue on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at their regular polling sites. Penton said a two-thirds majority, or 60 percent, approval is needed for the bond to pass.

Anyone with questions about the bond or the new school may contact Penton at 601-798-7744.