NASD officials: Schools plan gets good reviews at community forums

Published 1:12 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

By Christian Coffman

NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District officials say recent surveys indicate community members have confidence in the school district’s plans to build a new high school and renovate existing schools.

Starting in early February, Superintendent Fred Butcher and Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald presented the school district’s  proposal, called Mission 21, to residents in a series of 21 community forums. Mission 21 was presented to the Natchez Board of Aldermen, the Adams County Board of Supervisors and several local community and business organizations.

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Residents who attended the forums were asked to fill out survey questionnaires asking them to comment on the presentations.

The school district received 550 survey responses during the 21 forums, McDonald said. Of the surveys, approximately 77 percent of those surveyed responded favorably to the districts plans, McDonald said.

Throughout the process, Butcher and McDonald have been fine-tuning Mission 21 with input from the school board, Butcher said.

“Our community forums were productive with citizens asking very pertinent questions so they can be as informed as possible about the concerns and needs of the district as well as expressed their concerns and needs,” Butcher said.  “We were pleased with the participation at the forums and valuable input the citizens of Adams County have had in making Mission 21 a reality.”

The school board of trustees must now approve proceeding with the plans, Butcher said.

Once the school board gives the go-ahead, plans will be finalized with help from district employees, parents and community members Butcher said.

Along with their bonding attorney and financial advisers, the school board will research multiple funding sources to fund the project, Butcher said.

“We assure the citizens of Adams County that the district is working to be financially good stewards,” Butcher said.

Mission 21 maps out the districts plans to renovate every school in the district and building the new Natchez High School with a projected cost of $74.8 million.

Renovations to Frazier Elementary and Robert Lewis Magnet schools are estimated at a third of the total cost at $27.9 million.

Recently, some residents and community leaders have expressed doubts about the renovations of the two schools, Butcher said.

During a recent board of aldermen meeting, Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis expressed her doubts. During the meeting, she asked Butcher and McDonald about the state of the Robert Lewis campus and whether any repairs or renovations have been made to the campus.

Butcher said that no renovations had been made at that time, but he said it appears the gym is sound as well as the classrooms on the first floor.

Butcher said the school board has discussed the idea of repurposing Frazier and Robert Lewis schools for use by the public.

Previously the district discussed abandoning the two schools, which received criticism from Arceneaux and other community members.

“No one wants vacant buildings in their neighborhoods because of increased vandalism,” Butcher said.

“We will continue to work with district employees and community leaders to finalize plans for those (schools) that will be beneficial to everyone,” Butcher said.