Natchez-Adams school referendum should draw heavy turnout
from Staff Reports - NEWS
April 4, 2017 - ListenUpYall.com
By John Mott Coffey
NATCHEZ, Miss. – Voters should turn out in droves for next month’s referendum on whether they’ll approve the Natchez-Adams school board’s proposition to raise property taxes and move forward with a $45 million school construction plan.
“I think it’s going to be a helluva turnout for or against … if you want to have a tax increase or you don’t,” said Adams County Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus.
Natchez-Adams School District trustees last week set May 23 for the referendum for all registered voters in the city and county.
With all nine NASD school buildings 50 years old or older, the school board is seeking support to build a new high school and renovate other schools for a total cost of about $45 million. Most of the money would be borrowed through a bond issue.
A detailed analysis is being prepared of how much this would cost taxpayers, said NASD public relations coordinator Steven Richardson. A report presented to the school board last week showed the owner of a house assessed at $100,000 in value would pay about $93 more a year in property taxes.
A 60 percent majority would be required for the school-bond issue to pass.
At a meeting Monday of the Board of Supervisors, Lazarus said the school board is rushing the public vote after previously indicating it would take more time. “Now we want to hurry. I don’t understand,” Lazarus said.
Instead of next month, he said, the referendum should be in November, when the county will be holding special elections to pick a new Justice Court judge and county prosecutor to replace the two who recently resigned. A consolidated election would save money, Lazarus said.
However, Tony Gaylor, a NASD board attorney, said it’s best to have the school question as a stand-alone ballot proposition as soon as possible.
“They don’t want the issue to be confused with anything else,” said Gaylor, who noted the school system has for too many years delayed much-needed school renovations. “Unfortunately, we’ve been kicking the can down the road,” he said.
Most of the NASD schools were built in the 1960s. Others were built before.
It would cost about $23 million to build a new Natchez High School, according to NASD officials. The old NHS could be renovated for an estimated $17 million to house lower grades.
Two schools – Frazier and Lewis – are considered so structurally unsound they should be abandoned, according to school officials.
Natchez-Adams school Superintendent Fred Butcher has said the worn-out conditions of all NASD schools are a deterrent to hiring and retaining good teachers to help improve the education of the schools’ 3,000 students. Their poor performance on Mississippi assessment tests has resulted in the Natchez-Adams school system making an ‘F’ on its 2016 report card from the state Department of Education.
Gaylor said NASD officials are discussing election logistics with Adams County Circuit Clerk Eddie Walker and the county Election Commission. The May 23 vote will take place at the same polling places used for county, state and federal elections.
Plans for the school referendum are underway as the Natchez-Adams school board loses one of its five members. The Board of Supervisors on Monday accepted the resignation of Cynthia Smith, who’s leaving for health reasons, Lazarus said. Supervisors appointed the retired principal to the school board in 2014. They’ll seek nominees and consider who to appoint as Smith’s replacement later this month.