School board member defends bond election

Published 1:54 am Tuesday, April 18, 2017

NATCHEZ — A Natchez-Adams School Board member defended on Monday next month’s election for the public to decide on a $35 million school bond issue for renovating several of the district’s schools.

School board member Phillip West voluntarily appeared before the Adams County Board of Supervisors Monday to answer questions. District 2 Supervisor David Carter asked West why the special election couldn’t be held in November when the county was already paying for a special election?

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West said in 1987, as a supervisor himself, he met with the district’s superintendent who suggested 30 years ago one of the best things to improve education would be upgrading the facilities.

“Since that time all those facilities are on average 55 years old,” West said. “They are not safe for the most part and they are not up to snuff when it comes to infrastructure for technology and so many things.

“We are just way behind. We are trying to do all we can as soon as we can.”

West said the open layouts of some campuses are not safe — in particular the high school. The glass around the classes also poses distraction issues for the students, he said.

“At Natchez High, the kids sit in class and can look out and see everyone pass by and get distracted,” West said. “If there is a hurricane or a tornado, they would have to run outside to find a place to go.”

West said he understands a special election will cost taxpayers an additional $20,000 to $30,000, even if it came out of the school district’s coffers. West said the school district was planning to pay for the election.

“We want to do what we need to do as soon as we can do it in order to put ourselves in a position for the future,” West said. “We cannot be competitive from an economical development, public safety or quality of life perspective until we straighten out public education in this community.”

Without quality teachers, West said the district could not move forward. As fewer people are going into the education career track, the district needed every tool available to compete to bring in teachers.

“The teachers go to the places with the best facilities, the best system and the best quality of life,” West said. “Because of low pay teachers have, especially starting out, we have got to step up our game.”

District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray also said the district’s bonding attorney at a previous supervisors’ meeting also stressed the importance of a bond issue being on the ballot by itself so political issues are removed from the equation.

Gray said in Columbus conference recently he heard from leaders from the Golden Triangle, which has received praise recently for drawing in business.

Gray said the Golden Triangle leaders said the key to a successful area is public education and all leaders in the area promote education.

West said the Golden Triangle has been so successful that 30 years ago Natchez leaders visited the area to see what its leaders were doing.

“They came here to Natchez 20 years earlier than that to find out what we were doing,” West said. “But they surpassed us.”

When industries are looking to locate in an area, West said other than location one of the biggest things they look at is the labor force.

“Everyone is looking to get jobs in their community,” West said. “It is competitive. The more positive assets you have, the better we will be in being able to compete.”

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said he wanted to thank West for voluntarily appearing before the board.

“I wish all appointed board members would give reports from time to time,” Lazarus said. “But they never do.”