Getting school bond issues passed will be difficult

Published 1:35 am Sunday, April 2, 2017

Natchez-Adams School District officials have been making their rounds over the last couple of months, attempting to build support for a plan to build a new high school and renovate several other school buildings.

Last week the school board announced its intention to take the proposal to a vote — potentially as soon as next month — in order to secure approval of the bond issue and tax increase.

Despite the district’s efforts in lobbying public groups to their side, getting the 60-percent majority needed will be difficult — very difficult. That’s made more so by two facts.

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First, the local economy is still in a bit of a downturn. It’s not a good time to ask people to pay more.

Second, what’s being considered is a large, substantial project that will cause taxpayers to pay more at a time when belts are already tightened.

Make no bones about it; the district needs new or refurbished classrooms. The existing buildings are outdated and long past their useful lives without significant renovations.

But needing new buildings and convincing voters to open their wallets are two distinctly different things.

The district should have taken a less drastic approach, perhaps, borrowing less money up front and phasing in the work over the next 10 to 15 years. That may have softened the blow a bit.

Also, had the district outlined what had been done to help save money to help fund the building project that may have helped too.

What the district is seeking is a large chunk of money.

If the district’s efforts ultimately succeed, every property taxpayer will be forking out more money for real estate taxes and car tags.

The concern many voters have is something akin to a middle-class parent deciding what kind of car to purchase for his teenage daughter.

Concerned parent has watched as the daughter has had fender bender after fender bender and police citation after police citation.

“She’s wrecked her car and abused my trust with it by speeding and not taking car of it,” the parent thinks.

“Why should I borrow money to buy her a brand new car that she doesn’t deserve and likely won’t take care of?”

Many voters feel the same way. They can rationally acknowledge that the district’s buildings are old and in bad shape, but somehow in their minds they rationalize that this is OK because, “They don’t deserve it.”

It’s true that the district’s leadership over the last several years has been a joke at times.

They’ve sucked the district into legal trouble with their actions and they’ve mismanaged money for years. A few years ago, the district received a bill from the state for $200,000 after a mistake related to free lunches. Around the same time the county discovered the district was not giving the county all it was due on property taxes.

All the while the district’s grades on state test scores have been less than ideal, in some cases failing.

Voters — particularly older voters who no longer have school age children — struggle with rewarding something new when the performance has been so poor.

That’s tough for the district to overcome.

Using the earlier analogy. Does the 16-year-old who speeds and wrecks her 1997 model car deserve a 2017 luxury vehicle?

She does, certainly, deserve solid, reliable and safe transportation. In the school district, the buildings do not check each of those boxes.

But the relatively aggressive proposal that will wind up on the ballot seems to be trying to “right” 50 years of neglecting public school buildings in one swoop. Making smaller, logical steps over time may be more amenable, particularly as the district works hard to improve its reputation and its results.

Over the next several weeks, the district must do some extra lobbying to win the votes necessary to claim victory at the polls.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or