Use of program funds approved

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Poplarville school board, at its meeting last week, approved a proposal for use of excess funds from the Safe Harbor after-school program established in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

District Superintendent Carl Merritt updated the board on the proposal to allow the original four school districts to tap equally the remaining approximately $63,000 of Safe Harbor funds from the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation.

The Safe Harbor program had been established to provide an after-school program for children of Pearl River and Hancock counties that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Four school districts in the two counties participated in the program.

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Merritt said the superintendents of those districts wanted to use the remaining funds for competitive grants to teachers. The grants, which could be for as much as $2,500, cannot supplement existing programs, but would have to be for new uses.

“You would be surprised at all the ideas teacher have that they would like to be able to do,” Merritt said. “…to support whatever that subject area that they teach. It is a great opportunity to supplement their classrooms through the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, and it’s highly appreciated.”

He said the grant program would last until its funds were exhausted.

The board voted to approve the proposal.

The board then approved beginning the process of returning a 16th Section, where the former Pearl River Valley Country Club had been located, to agricultural use.

The golf course was closed after its owners were unable to get a reduction on what they had to pay for the lease. The club, in the recent economic downturn, was suffering a loss in revenue and sought relief by asking for a reduction in the cost of the lease.

The board approved the reclassification of the tract to agricultural at a previous meeting and this motion was to approve an outline of how to proceed with the transition, under guidelines from the state secretary of education’s office.

Merritt said the district attempted to find a lease holder for the site for over a year to re-establish the property as a golf course. He said the property had been advertised several times with no success.

“The bottom line is … you can’t force people to come lease a golf course if they don’t want to,” Merritt said. With the economy as it is and with the condition of the course, “it would take large amounts of money to get it back to where it should be,” he said. Add to that the access to several existing golf courses in the immediate area — Hillsdale, Picayune, Bogalusa and Hattiesburg, among others — and Merritt said the problem was magnified.

The state department of education directed the district to find a use for the property and Merritt said that would be to transition it back to an agricultural use. The board voted to accept the format for the transition process.

The next scheduled meeting is Feb. 13.