Board over education?

Published 5:53 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A request for assistance to push forward a bond issue started a debate of who should be pushing to improve the schools.

When Pearl River County School District Superintendent Dennis Penton asked the board for help to improve a road that would give access to a proposed new school site, District III Supervisor Hudson Holloiday responded by criticizing school systems.

Penton asked the board to improve an access road from Anchor Lake Road to West Union Road along the east side of Interstate 59. That road will give access to a site where the school board would like to build a new elementary school with funds from a bond issue. The school would cater to grades Kindergarten through sixth.

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Children on the east side of the interstate would go to the new school; children on the west side would continue to go to McNeill, Penton said. Before he can proceed with the bond issue he said he needed a commitment from the board on the road.

While the school initially would be an elementary school, it could later be converted into a high school, Penton said.

Holliday asked Penton who decides where new schools will be built and when bond issues for such topics are presented to the public. Penton said initially those decisions are up to the school board and administration, but ultimately the voters decide if the bond issue will pass.

Holliday then criticized school boards’ ability to decide where schools should go and when the bond issues special elections are held, citing the failed bond issue from last year to build a similar school in the Salem area. He said school boards introduce bond issues using special elections to get the required 60 percent of voters but fail to include every voter.

“I don’t trust the school people to do the right things in these situations,” Holliday said.

Getting the entire community involved with input would be the best way to ensure a bond issue passes, Holliday said.

Penton said the school board has held numerous public meetings and workshops to gather community input.

“Sometimes we get more input than we know what to do with,” Penton said.

Holliday also doubts if school boards have the ability to bring the county better schools.

“You don’t need to be leading that fight, we need to be leading that fight,” Holliday said.

A major issue voters had with the previous bond issue to build the new school in Salem involved confusing language, Holiday said. Penton agreed and said the new bond issue would be worded so the public can better understand.

Holliday proposed the board look at the road issue and draw up an estimated cost, provided the school would help with the cost of work on the road as it lay on 16th section land. The board agreed.

On another issue, Penton said millage in the county may have to be adjusted in the Pearl River County School District to make up for short falls that total about $100,000 in the school budget. He said part of the problem involved the county’s collecting less in taxes than projected, mostly in car tags. The adjustment, if approved, would take place over three years.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said that due to a number of factors it’s common for the school district not to get every dollar they ask for.

After Penton asked for a short-fall note to make up for the loss in budget, Holliday asked Penton why the district purchased St. Michael’s campus in Carriere for about $1.2 million. Penton said the newly constructed dorm and cafeteria at St. Michael’s and the campus’ intended use as an alternative school for the Pearl River County School District justify the purchase price and any renovations that may need to be done to the campus, Penton said. He said there will always be a need for an alternative school and the site also could serve a number of other functions. Even though children in alternative education are more difficult to educate, there is just as big an investment in them as the rest of the district’s students.

“Those children still deserve an education…,” Penton said.

Penton countered Holliday’s question with a comment about a county construction project. In spite of public opinion, Penton said he has never come to the board questioning their actions, such as the construction of Chimney Square. He said he knows the board has information he doesn’t on that matter, so he saves his involvement for school district topics.

No decision was made by the board on the short fall.

A property owner, Edward W. Bailey, asked the board about maintaining roads in the Lake Happiness area. Bailey said the dirt roads are hard to traverse when it rains. Holliday told Bailey that all roads in the development are private. Dues paid by property owners to the property owners association are supposed to maintain those roads. The board told Bailey that until the roads are paved by the developer or the property owners association, the county will not take them in and maintain them. Holliday said he plans to talk to the association within a week or so to address the problem.

Two sport related organizations told the board about their exceptional seasons. Hoop it Up announced that thanks to the board of supervisor’s’ assistance in cleaning up the Whitesand Community Center the organization was able to hold a tournament, said Oliver Silas. During the tournament, the girls played the boys and the girls won, Silas said. He hopes to make the event annual and increase participation while giving kids a safe place to play.

The Picayune Pirates competed in the USSSA World Series and went on to become the champions.

In other business the board went into executive session to discuss pending litigation. No action was taken on the litigation, but Lumpkin said the board approved Dalley Food Service to provide meals to inmates at the jail and approved the purchase of about six surplus patrol cars from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for a total of $24,000.

The board also;

— Accepted Mississippi Emergency Management Agency payment for reimbursement of $314,639 for Hurricane Katrina expenses.

— Approved paying $11,408 to replace board president Anthony Hale’s truck. Funds came from insurance proceeds. Hales recused himself from that vote.

— Adopted a new mileage reimbursement rate of $.585 cents per mile.

— Approved sending a memo to the county offices located in Carriere stating that all bathrooms in those offices, excluding the tax office, are now open for public use.

The board meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday and possibly at 9 a.m. Thursday for budget workshops. The workshops are open to the public, Lumpkin said. The next regular meeting of the board is at 9 a.m. on Aug. 11.