Does school district have other options?

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 9, 2017

Leaders of the Natchez-Adams School District are in an unenviable position.

They face a decision in which they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. At least that’s what they apparently think.

Many board members seem to believe deeply that their mission is to right decades of neglect that have caused all the district’s school buildings to be outdated and in need of renovation or replacement.

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It’s true that the district’s buildings are in rough shape and in terrible need of some modernizing.

The district sought voter approval in May for a sizable bond issue that would have raised enough money to fund a district wide building project.

The bond issue failed to reach a simple majority, let alone the 60 percent required for passage.

The project would have constructed a new high school and renovated most others in the district.

Rather than simply going back to the drawing board, re-engaging in a conversation with voters to find common ground on which a new building plan could be built, the district is plowing ahead with an alternative plan.

Late last month, the school district moved forward with plans to borrow $9 million and is considering entering into a lease arrangement that would raise another $25 million.

Essentially the district is working a plan that allows it to do what it wants regardless of taxpayer wishes.

Unfortunately the alternative plan would ultimately cost taxpayers even more, due to higher interest rates of the new financial structures.

Rather than plowing ahead and further causing division in our community, the district should consider a plan that is less costly and less focused on getting everything done at once.

Most reasonable people can agree that the district needs new buildings and that taxpayers do not support a tax increase to pay for a district-wide building plan.

So the question is, how do we find common ground? The answer may be as simple as rethinking the priorities.

As bad as the high school is, design-wise, the district might be smart to take a totally different approach.

Rather than focusing on the top end of the public education funnel, they might get more support by starting at the kindergarten and elementary schools.

Why not build a state-of-the-art early education facility first. Doing that may, just may, cause more parents to give the public schools greater consideration when deciding on enrolling their children in public vs. private schools.

By the time children are in high school, their paths are largely set and school choice is decided.

However, a brand new, well-equipped school building might get more people in the school system.

Once in, keeping those folks may not be as difficult as it may seem at first.

With a new school building and plans to roll out a new school every five to seven years, the district might have the best of both worlds.

They might have a building plan that is achievable, gets the district’s buildings on better ground, but also might grow the school’s enrollment and ultimately more public support.

That may still be a long shot, but it’s got a better chance of success than having non-elected officials on the school board decide they should be able to do what they want, despite what the voters want.

School board members do not work for themselves. They work for taxpayers and children. They must balance the needs of the children with the desires of the taxpayers.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or