Citizens refuse to pay more for schools

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 2, 2010

NATCHEZ — Most of the vocal members of a large crowd at Thursday’s Natchez-Adams School District public hearing came and left with a united voice — no more taxes.

If student test scores were higher, additional taxes might be OK, several in the crowd said, but current performance doesn’t warrant a tax increase.

The Braden boardroom was packed with approximately 25 citizens plus district officials and board members, all in attendance to discuss a proposed 2.98 mil property tax increase.

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The increase would cost taxpayers $30 extra on a house valued at $100,000.

After Natchez-Adams School District Business Manager Margaret Parson reviewed a 21-page budget handout aloud, board Chairman Harold W. Barnett took questions and comments, stressing that he wanted everyone present to have a chance to talk.

Resident Shelby Carsile said Natchez is mostly filled with senior citizens, and a tax increase puts undue stress on the elderly, who live on a fixed income.

“They need to come to our world and live within (the school district’s) means,” Carsile said.

Armando Ricci pointed out the $10,262 cost per pupil listed on the budget is higher than the state average, but test scores are less than Mississippi’s average.

Superintendent Anthony Morris said many factors affect cost per pupil, such as special education, at risk students and students for whom English is a second language. Morris said the district has an above average number of special education students.

Others offered suggestions for ways to cut costs.

County resident Gene Simonton said the district should try to find ways to save money, such as turning off the stadium lights that run 24 hours at Natchez High or making use of the rundown Washington School property.

“You’d be surprised how much (ways to save money) you can find,” Simonton said.

Simonton also questioned if 93 percent of students reported on the budget to receive free and reduced lunches actually qualify for the program, and whether anyone checks it out.

Fred Middleton, who owns Big M Supply, a janitorial supplier, encouraged the school district to do business with local companies who employ locals and pay local taxes.

“Money spent in Adams County is far better than money spend in Hinds County,” he said.

Bob Buie Sr. was also concerned about future increases for senior citizens.

“Where does all this stop?” he asked.

Buie suggested curtailing athletics to focus on academics and setting higher expectations for students’ success.

Barnett said he thought the hearing went well and everyone got a chance to voice concerns and ask questions. He also invited the extra audience members at the hearing to attending monthly school board meetings and emphasized the board’s willingness to take suggestions and hear out the public.

“Write us a letter,” he said. “Our address is 10 Homochitto St.”

The school board will continue discussions about the proposed tax increase at 4 p.m. next Thursday in the Braden Central Office boardroom.

The board will vote to either accept the increase as proposed or to lower it.

The school board last proposed a tax mil increase near this size in 2004, when taxes increased from 47.46 to 53.82 mils. Last year, the school board reduced the mileage rate by 6 mils from 2009, largely due to a countywide property reassessment that generated more tax dollars.