Residents, school board talk tax increase

Published 1:12 am Saturday, July 29, 2017

By Christian Coffman

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — One week after the board meeting recessed abruptly following a  melee, the Natchez-Adams School Board met Friday in a special board meeting, but the subject was the same — the district’s plan to borrow $9 million, only more calmly this time.

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The loan — approved earlier this week — is part of a new funding plan the district aims to use in order to renovate or replace school buildings in the district.

Voters rejected a $35 million bond issue in May aimed at funding the measure. The district is now moving forward with an alternative plan that does not require voter approval. Before the meeting, half a dozen protesters dotted the sidewalk outside the school district’s office.

Board president Amos James said everybody has the right to protest.

“I don’t have a problem with it, that’s their right,” James said.

In response to the recent backlash against the board, James said he is not trying to hurt anybody or make anyone upset.

“I’m trying to do what’s best for the kids,” James said. “When you have a child, you try to get the child the best education … that they need.”

Marcia McCullough, a former NASD teacher, said the board is disregarding what locals voted on in May.

“It’s an unelected board just totally out of hand, doing what they want to do, not paying attention to the voters,” McCullough said. “We want people to know that we’re going to step up to them.”

Kevin Wilson, who along with his wife organized a failed attempt at forcing the $9 million loan onto a November ballot, told the board that he hated the way things happened at the last board meeting, but was still against them.

“We’re failing miserably as a school (district),” Wilson said. “I don’t blame the teachers at all … I blame the administration.”

Wilson finished by stating he and others against the borrowing of $9 million would sue the board.

Caroline Read, who was an employee for the NASD for 30 years, said she is an information person and needs more of it.

“About how new buildings will impact student outcomes,” Read said. “I have … monitored several schools that have had wonderful facilities and failing grades.”

Read said she would like data on said schools and a tour of the harmful facilities.

“No offense, but I haven’t gotten that info from you all,” Read said. “This has become a topic that has divided our small community in ways we didn’t want, and I think it is because we don’t have the information.”

Dr. Randolph Trappey brought statistics before the board that he believed showed that the NASD has an unfunded pension liability of $45 million.

Trappey said that a $45 million pension liability equates to a total overall pension liability of approximately $3,000 per taxpayer.

“They have skyrocketing pension liabilities and payments, shrinkng tax revenue and now a new $9 million debt to plug the hole it creates,” Trappey said. “Until you can demonstrate some discipline in spending hard-earned and scarce taxpayer money, no additional taxpayer money should be allocated.”

Thomamsina Bailey was the only person at the meeting who spoke in favor of the school board.

“My grandfather fought for what you guys are doing, and I just wanted to thank you,” Bailey said. “What you guys have done is an excellent job.”

Superintendent Fred Butcher appealed to the audience that if after his contract ends and the system in place has not “moved substantially,” he will hand his resignation to the board.

“I came back (as superintendent) to the school district to see if we can all work together …to move this system,” Butcher said. “I came back because I was very dismayed that Natchez is an F school district.”

In order to help the school district, Butcher said that parents, teachers and administrators have to all look at the good and the bad.

Butcher said that this year he wants everyone in the district to focus on the good.

Butcher said that focusing on the bad aspects in the community will negatively impact students.

Butcher said that the board will take full responsibility for how this district is currently but for the public to give them a chance.

“If this district does not turn around under my administration, I will bring this board my resignation, and you won’t have to worry about any lawsuits,” Butcher said.