Voting on the $17M school bond is premature

Published 7:00 am Friday, March 3, 2017

On Feb. 18, I attended the Pearl River School District community information meeting on the proposed school bond.

Superintendent Alan Lumpkin asked why Hancock and other schools could get construction bonds passed while there was a history of failures here in our county.

After 10 days of investigations through meeting with our elected officials, county and state employees, reading two years of minutes and other documents, I feel I may have his answer.

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On Sept. 16, 2016, the concept of new construction was presented to the school board, seeking a 20-year bond for either $10 or $17 million to build permanent classrooms at the Carriere and McNeil campuses along with a performing arts center with 14 classrooms and possible library and media center.

Information shared at the meeting stated that this is necessary because 200 students have been added to the rolls, according to the Picayune Item. Prior to this influx of students the student population had been stagnant for 5 years.

During the Feb. 18 update, Lumpkin outlined five priorities, which include new classrooms, repairs and repurpose old classrooms, a performing arts center with classrooms, centralized offices and a new concession stand with bathrooms at the football stadium. I have asked for renderings of these facilities but found that none had been made in order not to spend $30,000 for architectural designs. My concern is that there is no concrete plan, a budget, estimates for repairs to the old buildings or if the old buildings are even worth saving. No report exists for possible new employees needed for this expansion, or the operating and maintenance costs these additions would add to future budgets. The millage rate is presently levied at 55.9, 0.9 above the 55 max allowed by MS Code 37-57-104. The proposed $17 million bond would only cost $6 a month for a home valued at $100,000, since we have old bonds expiring this year.

Due to the information presented so far, combined with what I’ve gathered from Board minutes, newspaper articles and attending meetings with officials, I believe I can now say why I will vote against this bond.

We were told that old bonds are expiring and that we would be out of debt, however everyone fails to tell us what exactly this means. Research shows that the old bonds were being retired through the levy of 4.29 mills with another 1.42 for interest. This adds up to 5.71 mills worth of savings every year on our taxes. Therefore, if the bond fails we actually get a savings of 5.71 mills, meaning our tax bill will decrease. If the bond passes, you will not see a 6 mill increase but an 11.71 mill increase for the next 20 years.

The 1,000 seat performing arts center with classrooms seems like a want, not a need at this time. While it would be nice for our students, after almost a decade of penny pinching and watching gas and food prices start to rise again, I cannot justify this expense. There have been no proposed income sources to help offset this building, let alone the operational costs that will be associated with it. The concession/bathrooms were proposed and budgeted last year for $35,000. Now, without explanation, that cost has risen to $300,000 ($35,000 is still in this year’s budget).

All of our teachers, principals, elected officials, state employees are honest, dedicated people, who have the students’ interests at heart. They have endured the legislature not fully funding basic needs for their classrooms, while cutting where they could or paying for supplies they need. But new construction has nothing to do with that funding source. This money comes from taxpayers only.

Vote March 7 at the storm shelter safe room, located near the Carriere Campus at 7431 Hwy. 11 Bldg. A in Carriere.


By Cheryl Battey

Pearl River County resident