/Crumbling schools Leland School District may ask voters for $875 million to fund renovations and upgrades

Crumbling schools Leland School District may ask voters for $875 million to fund renovations and upgrades

Nonprofit Mississippi News LELAND — After almost a decade of deliberating on how to fix schools’ crumbling infrastructures, the Leland School District board of trustees is now considering an $8.75million bond referendum to fund projects across the district. Every year, we [the board] walk around the campus and see that it is not functioning properly. Roy Meeks, a board member of trustees, stated that we must fix this. Apart from the structural issues plaguing schools, it is common for classes not to have heating or cooling throughout the year. It doesn’t matter if there is air in one room, or the other. In winter, the heat may be there in one room, but the temperature in the other may be below zero. Teachers may buy heaters for their rooms if there is no heat. They might also tell students to bring their jackets during winter. Madison Bush, a rising ninth grader at Leland High School, said that teachers are likely to do this a lot. The school board held a meeting last week to gather community opinions on a possible bond issue. Gary Bailey, an architect, presented the following issues to each school: * Leland High School, replacing heating and cooling, renovating toilets and roofs. Replace gym lockers. * Leland School Park (middle School): Construct science lab, repair roofs and windows, and replace heating and air conditioning systems in halls. * Leland Career and Technical Center, replacing heating and cooling in hallways. Jesse King, Superintendent of Leland School, stated that the goal for the renovation was to increase enrollment and improve retention and recruitment of certified teachers. In 2017, 11 percent of Leland’s teachers were not certified. The critical teacher shortage has reached its worst point. In fact, the state’s shortage of teachers is six times greater than when the Critical Teacher Shortage Act of 1999 was passed. A tour of your facilities is one of the most important things they consider when interviewing teachers. King stated that research shows that teachers prefer to be in places that are welcoming, comfortable, and warm than schools that are the opposite. Teachers and ex-teachers who attended Mississippi Today’s public journalism workshops stated that the problem of teacher shortages is due to the poor state of schools. Many said that they would prefer better facilities to a raise. In Mississippi, particularly in the Delta area, it is not uncommon for schools to have significant problems with their buildings. Since a fire in West Bolivar Consolidated Schools District destroyed them both two years ago the district hasn’t had a cafeteria nor gym. However, the district is currently in the process to rebuild. Because the floor slopes down due to shifting foundation, kids can’t walk past certain points in the hallways. One classroom has a floor that is slipping and black mold on its ceiling. North Bolivar Consolidated Schools District voted in January 2018 to close Mound Bayou’s high school. It stated that the schools needed $3.5 million to repair their structures and it couldn’t afford to run five schools. Mound Bayou residents fought for the closure of the high school, but the State Supreme Court finally ruled that the school must be closed. Leland’s enrollment, like many Delta school districts has declined over the years. It was 925 students in 2014-15 and 824 in 2018-2019. Part of how many students a school district has determines its funding. A decrease in enrollment means that the state will allocate less money to schools districts. “If we can pass this bond issue and get started somewhere, we might be able to get some students back that we have lost over the years. More money will be available to students if we can increase attendance. Brandon Taylor, board president, stated that we have been cutting like crazy. In addition to decreasing enrollment and declining funds, school districts are also consistently underfunded. The state’s education budget has been fully funded twice in the last 22 years. For example, the state legislature underfunded Leland School District $4,609,000,000201 between 2007 and 2018. Local districts in the state have decided to issue bond issues. If the community votes for it, this raises local taxes. Holmes County School District is one of the most poor in the country and has proposed a $15million bond referendum to raise teacher salaries. Jackson residents approved $65 million to repair infrastructure in August 2018. Bailey stated that he didn’t know how much the bond referendum would be costly for individual tax payers and that they were trying to figure that out with the tax assessor. After the community meeting, the school board will vote on June 17 whether to place the bond referendum on September’s ballot. This story was partly informed by discussions at Mississippi Today’s Public Newsroom. You can learn more about the Public Newsroom series by clicking here.