Recent public opinion leads to petitions

Published 5:22 pm Friday, November 30, 2007

The public opinion meeting held Nov. 15, revealed a mixed bag of emotions concerning reacquisition of Hancock land from the Picayune Municipal Separate School District.

To get a more complete idea of the public’s opinion a petition is currently circulating in Hancock County to gather signatures of those who would like their children to attend Hancock County Schools instead of Picayune schools.

The most recent push to get a section of northern Hancock County land back under the Hancock County School District, and away from the Picayune school district, began with the construction of a new elementary near Lee Town Road. However, the issue has been a topic of debate for decades.

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Hancock School Board president Jennifer Seal said she took the public response at the meeting as half and half. Half wanted Hancock to reacquire the land while the other half was concerned since they moved to that area with the knowledge that their children would attend the Picayune school district.

Now that a new elementary school is under construction in the area of Lee Town Road an effort to establish borders for attending students is underway, Seal said.

When asked if students currently attending Picayune school district schools would be allowed to finish their schooling there, Seal said it may be an option if the majority of the residents in the area opt to have Hancock’s district reclaim the land.

The tax dollars collected from the millage in the area is something that the Hancock School Board would like to have, Seal said. Hancock tax payers in the Picayune school district eventually pay their millage to the Picayune school district. Hancock Tax Assessor Jimmie Ladner, said that tax base consists of 170 improved parcels and the 16th section land in the Stennis Space Center buffer zone.

Brent Harrell, assistant superintendent of the Picayune Municipal Separate School District, said that in the 2006-2007 school year Picayune’s school district received $163,272.61 in ad valorem taxes from the area.

Hancock will pursue the issue only if the majority of the residents in the area are for the change, Seal said.

“If the majority is (not for the move) we respect the consensus of the community,” Seal said.

Petitions have been generated and can be found at the Seal’s Grocery and Caston’s on Mississippi 43 South, Hancock School District Assistant Superintendent Donnie Gholston said. While there is not a deadline on obtaining signatures on the petition, Seal said they plan to keep them available until January.

Gholston said about 60 percent of those who came to the meeting signed the petition for their children to attend Hancock schools.

Both Seal and Gholston said no action will be taken at this time, the school district is just trying to get a feel for what the community wants to do.

If the Hancock School District does obtain that land for their district, then efforts would take place to gain the 16th section land currently in the buffer zone.

Currently children in the area of Lee Town Road travel about 12 miles to get to Picayune’s Jr. High and High Schools. Those same children would travel about 15 miles to get to Hancock’s middle and high schools and about 12 miles to get to the current elementary, Hancock North Central Elementary. When the new elementary, West Hancock Elementary, is finished it will be a much shorter ride for those students, but travel to the Hancock middle school and high schools would remain about 15 miles.

Gholston said there are no plans to build another middle or high school farther north in Hancock County. Any plans for such buildings would be at least 10 years away.

Harrell said if the Picayune school board receives a petition, then the board will consider it. Neither Harrell nor any board members have been contacted recently by Hancock County on the matter.