Two supervisors, sheriff say schools outdated, need upgrades

Published 1:54 am Tuesday, February 7, 2017


NATCHEZ — Two members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors and the sheriff said Monday the county’s school facilities are outdated.

While coming short of outright endorsing Natchez-Adams School District superintendent’s plan, Districts 2 and 3 supervisors David Carter and Angela Hutchins said the county’s facilities could use upgrading.

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Sheriff Travis Patten said he was glad to see members of the board open to the idea of updating the schools.

“You have to invest in the kids,” Patten said. “The doors are shutting on all of the businesses and no new industries are coming because of the rating of our school system. We as a community as a whole have to make an investment into our public school system, regardless of whether you have kids in them or not.

“The survival of Natchez is going to depend on our school system.”

Superintendent Butcher and other representatives of the school district kicked off the first of a month’s worth of community forums Monday at the supervisors’ regularly scheduled meeting.

The superintendent said he was not looking for an endorsement from the board Monday, as Butcher said the plan is not set in stone at this point.

Following the community forums, Butcher said he’d return to meet with the supervisors once stakeholders had their input and the school board has approved a plan.

Hutchins said she supported the idea of the district building a new high school and renovating the current Natchez High, but did not comment on the elementary schools. If a school does have to close, Hutchins said she hopes the building would be used for vocational education.

Though Carter said he had trouble with the idea putting millions into renovating schools near the end of their lifespan, Carter said the current facilities are not conducive to educating today’s youth.

“The environment does have an impact on learning,” Carter said. “There is plenty empirical evidence that proves environment does play a factor. You go to our schools, and we have old, decrepit schools.”

Carter said as the population of Adams County is not growing, it might be better to consolidate the number of schools, as Butcher’s proposal would do.

“I think we need to acknowledge the fact that Natchez is not the town it was when these schools were built,” he said. “We may not need the number of schools we needed then.”

But if the district does close schools, Carter said a plan needs to be put in place for what to do with the buildings, as Natchez does not need any more abandoned buildings for the sheriff to have to monitor for potential crime.

Patten said he thinks modern facilities would help attract certified teachers who would bring innovation to the classroom and help turn the district around. The sheriff said the district could attract teachers by showing them the community is placing a priority on education.

“I do support the project,” Patten said. “One, the schools are outdated. And two, the schools need to be more appealing to attract the people we are trying to draw here into our school system.”

Butcher said he also hoped modern facilities would help draw in students the district has lost to the private schools.

Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald began to give her presentation on the potential plan, which is to build a new high school, renovate the old high school and turn it into a middle school, and in the third phase, renovate West Elementary, McLaurin Elementary and Morgantown Middle School.

McDonald also presented the cost for renovating Frazier and for the first time, Robert Lewis Middle School.

When McDonald began talking about renovating the two schools, which would cost approximately $28 million collectively, District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus stopped her and said a new school could be built for that amount.

Lazarus said he knows City of Natchez Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis has a problem with the idea of closing Frazier and Robert Lewis, but he hopes seeing the estimated cost would be a reality check.

Robert Lewis Middle School alone would cost $18.5 million. Butcher said following the joint session in which Arceneaux-Mathis brought issue with closing the two schools, the district had its architecture consultants look at RLMS.

Butcher said the reason for the high cost is because the school needs major foundational work.

Butcher said he thinks funding the school’s building upgrades would have to be approved by the taxpayers ultimately. While Butcher said he wanted to keep the options open for the community to review, he also knew the final cost total has to be low enough to get support.

“We are trying to take something to the public that is workable,” Butcher said. “Something the general public can say yes, ‘I will pay $50 more in taxes for this kind of structure.’

“If the cost is just outrageous, I think it will die.”