Public hearing on school bond

Published 1:48 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The first of two public hearings on the proposed $15 million bond issue for the Poplarville School District drew about 30 local residents last Thursday evening.

The Poplarville Special Municipal Separate School District is proposing a total $16 million expenditure to begin an upgrading schools that in its initial phase would see construction of a new facility for K-2/3 grades. The $15 million figure is the district’s bonding capability with an additional $1 million of cash reserves already available.

Also included in the proposal is money for additional classrooms, at the other three district campuses — the upper elementary, the middle school and the high school.

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As additional funds become available, possibly within five years, Bailey said a facility for grades four and five would be added to the new elementary complex.

Voters in the Poplarville School District will decide whether to issue the bonds in a special election Tuesday, Sept. 16. According to state law, 60 percent of those voting must approve the measure. Voters will vote at their regular voting precincts.

Those attending were told that house appraised at $100,000 would see taxes increase by $83 or 23 cents per day and a car valued at $15,000 would see the tag go up bye $37.35 annually or 10 cents per day. Those figures would be lower or higher depending on the value of the property, he said.

Home owners over age 65 or disabled are exempt from taxes on up to $75,000 of the value of the house, Bailey said. They would not be assessed until the value of their property exceeded $75,000.

The proposed site for the new elementary school is on 285 acres of 16th Section land owned by the district across Mississippi Highway 53 from the Poplarville-Pearl River County Airport. If approved, the new facility’s opening is expected to be in August of 2010.

Gary Bailey, architectural-educational planner with The Bailey Group that was hired to draw up a feasibility study for the district, said the current condition of the lower elementary school was the reason it had been given priority.

He said the lower elementary school is only one half as good as the next building of the four main buildings in the district.

Bailey listed several problems at the elementary school as the reason for its being given top priority. Among the most critical Bailey said is lack of handicap accessibility, small classroom space for the number of students, safety issues with exits and an estimated repair cost to address the lower elementary facility’s deficiencies of $8.5 million.

He said the elementary school is draining maintenance funds just to keep that building at an acceptable level, what he called Band-Aid fixes.

“As you know, buildings don’t teach kids; teachers teach kids, but buildings have a major impact on learning environment,” Bailey said.

The upper elementary school and the high school are both showing their age, he said. The upper elementary’s oldest building date from the 1950s while initial construction for the high school was in the early 1960s. The best of all the facilities is the newer middle school that now needs additional space.

Projected growth for the district, he said, for the next five years is estimated to be six percent which equates to approximately 141 new students, or enough students for seven additional classrooms. He said space is already limited without considering adding new students.

Wayne Alexander, who serves on the advisory committee for the bond issue, said one of the main factors that people investigate when deciding to move to a new location is its educational facilities. He said the quality of the schools and their facilities is one of the factors that determine if new businesses come to an area.

“It’s evident when you look at test scores the Poplarville school system is one of the strongest in the state … but when you start looking at the facilities that the kids have classes in, we’re nowhere close to the top.”

He said that is one of the reasons the bond issue proposal. The district has tried twice in the past to secure similar funding and both times the proposals were defeated by small margins, said Alexander.

The long-range vision is to have all the district’s educational facilities at the new site, but that is at least 15 years or more in the future, attendees were told. Bailey showed the group an architect’s rendering of the final proposed complex that would have a high school facility, one for the middle school and the elementary school along with an auditorium. Sports facilities would be behind the high school facility.