County supervisors debate school election decision

Published 12:57 am Tuesday, April 4, 2017


NATCHEZ — Adams County Supervisors Monday debated the school board’s decision to have a special election referendum on May 23 to allow the district to take out $35 million in bonds for a building project.

Even if the school board is able to pay for the $20,000 to $30,000 estimated cost for the special election, Supervisors David Carter and Mike Lazarus said it was irresponsible to spend the money when a special election is already planned for November for county prosecutor and southern district justice court judge.

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“Even if they pay for it, my thing is the taxpayers are paying for it either way,” Carter said. “We don’t have many special elections. It’s hard to do two in the same year.”

On the other hand, Supervisors Angela Hutchins, Ricky Gray and Calvin Butler cited different reasons Jackson-based attorney Tony Gaylor provided to justify the date. Gaylor was hired by the school board to be the project’s bonding attorney.

Gaylor said the district intends to pay for the special election. He said successful school districts around the state typically prefer to have an election for a building program to be stand alone from other issues.

“They don’t want the issue to be confused with anything else,” Gaylor said.

Gaylor also said successful districts typically have the referendum when school is still in session and fresh off campaigns for the need, which the school recently conducted in more than 15 community forums around the county. Gaylor said should the referendum pass in May, it could also speed up construction.

“They have conducted their information sessions all across the county, letting folks know what they are hoping to do,” Gaylor said. “They have money budgeted for it. They are not asking for the county to pay for anything.”

Hutchins said the county’s children are worth the $20,000 to $30,000 for an additional special election.

“Those schools are in really bad shape,” Hutchins said. “I recall David (Carter) and myself asking a couple of the kids why they can’t concentrate in school.

“One of the things was the school conditions – the smell, the mold. We are sending kids into buildings like that and they can’t concentrate and get sick in the stomach. It is not fair.”

Gray pointed at each supervisor, including himself, and said it’s easy to not see a need when something doesn’t affect you. Gray said if board members had children attending these school buildings, they might think differently.

Butler said he could understand why the district would want to have the election in May.

“They have been around the community and are wrapping up a tour,” he said. “It is fresh on people’s mind and that’s probably a strategy.”

Carter said he was not disputing the need for updated school facilities. He said research does point to environment making a difference in how a child performs, and that the conditions in the district’s building are not ideal.

“They are horrible here,” Carter said. “My thing is just everyone needs money right now, so do we want to throw ($20,000 to $30,000) down when it will be free in (November)?”

Lazarus said elections typically have a turnout of 30 to 40 percent, but based off of what he’s hearing in the community, the turnout could be much larger whether the election is in May or November.

“I think this will be one of our biggest elections,” Lazarus said. “I’ve heard from a lot of people, some are strong for it, and some are strong against.”

The district is hoping to spend approximately $45 million to build a new high school and renovate most of its elementary schools. The school would obligate the additional $10 million through other sources.

Natchez-Adams Superintendent Fred Butcher, who was not present at the county board meeting, said after the meeting said the timeline the district is using models what districts including Rankin County, Starkville and Clarksdale have employed in building schools.

“Other school districts around the state typically call for a referendum vote as a special election so that the request is on the ballot alone to prevent confusing ballot issues,” Butcher said. “NASD has been engaged in the process of drafting a improvement project for more than year.

“We believe that our community understands that improvements to our district will result in improvements to our community.”

Butcher said the feedback from the community forums was favorable after citizens were made aware of the major concerns and needs of the district.

“There has been 55 years of wear and tear to our facilities,” Butcher said. “We believe it is important to be proactive in addressing these needs, instead of waiting to some later period and having some security breach and/or major structural issue to occur and simply become reactive.”