/‘Water is literally coming into the school’ Holmes County aims to pass $184 million bond issue during general election

‘Water is literally coming into the school’ Holmes County aims to pass $184 million bond issue during general election

Mississippi News Nonprofit HOLMES COUNTY — Although the dust has settled since the tornadoes that ravaged Holmes County in spring 2017 are over, the effects of the storm can still be seen in the schools. Some schools had their roofs severely damaged by high winds. It rains in the schools whenever there are storms. To catch rainwater, tubs, mop buckets and trash cans are placed under the roof. Water literally comes into the school when it rains. It rained one day and it was very heavy. Some corridors were filled up with water. The buildings are old and not functional. It’s really a terrible situation for the children there,” stated James Henderson, Holmes County Consolidated Superintendent. Because of the danger of them getting wet from rainwater leaking into the kitchen, the light bulbs in one school cafeteria had to be removed. It’s not only the leaking that is the problem. It is also the old pipes. One of the pipes burst last December. Raw sewage leaked from the pipe, entering the building and rushing to the school offices and bathrooms. Alonzo Washington was the School District’s Supervisor of Maintenance. He said that the school had to be evacuated until the leak was contained. A crack ran down the exterior of one Durant school, splitting it in half. “We don’t know what could happen. It could collapse. Washington stated that this is his fear. Washington is equally concerned about what’s invisible. Washington knows there is asbestos in the floor tiles and that the asbestos is stirred up every time it rains. Maintenance workers must be taught to bag broken tiles, and not sweep them up. Sweeping could spread asbestos. He is also aware that roofing materials and ceiling tiles that are constantly wet are more susceptible to mold. “That’s what’s scary. He said that we don’t know whether it’s mold or something else in these situations. In Delta school districts, severe structural problems like mold and asbestos are common. Some classrooms in Leland School District do not have air conditioning or heating. Students in West Bolivar School districts can’t walk within a specific area of a classroom because the floor is too low. Superintendent Maurice Smith stated that in 2018, North Bolivar Consolidated Schools District closed two schools (including the John F. Kennedy High school in Mound Bayou) because it couldn’t afford $3.5 million to repair and still operate five schools. The damage to the Holmes County Consolidated Schools District was assessed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Henderson stated that both agencies concluded that replacing these schools would be more cost-effective than restoring them. It is now the goal to build three new buildings, and convince the community to approve an $18.4million bond issue. According to data from Mississippi Department of Education, Holmes County was underfunded by $14,868,991 between 2008 and 2018. Local governments have been forced to raise taxes at the county and city level due to underfunding by the state. Leland voters rejected an $8.75million bond issue in September. However, they will be able to vote again in December for a reduced version for $6.9million. Jackson residents approved a $65million bond in August 2018 to pay for infrastructure repairs. On Nov. 5, the general election day, Holmes County residents will be able to vote in favor or against this bond. Henderson stated that the bond’s passage would result in new schools for Holmes County students, as well as a significant raise for teachers. Henderson stated that bond money can only be used for building or renovating school structures. However, having the bond money would allow the school district to spend other funds to give all teachers a $5,000 raise. He wants Holmes County to be the highest-paid school district in the state. As the gubernatorial election nears, teacher pay debates have become more heated. Teachers in Mississippi are among the least well-paid in the country. Many found this insulting. During the 2019 legislative session legislators finally agreed to give teachers a $1500 raise. Both Republican candidate Tate Reeves and Democratic candidate Jim Hood have made campaign promises to raise teachers’ salaries. According to a Mississippi Today series, poor teacher pay is another factor contributing to the teacher shortage. This is especially true in the Delta. Holmes County was home to the highest number of uncertified teachers in the State in 2017. In 2018, it was awarded an F accountability rating by the state. “I was there last year, 2018 and only 103 out of the 205 teachers were certified. 53 vacancies, I think. Henderson stated that fifty percent of the teachers are not certified and people are asking why they’re not performing academically. Henderson, students, staff from the school district, and Henderson have been visiting neighborhoods and visiting churches to promote the bond issue. What if the bond isn’t passed? Henderson won’t even entertain the thought. He said, “That question has been brought up at every meeting and that is something I would never address.” “I can’t fathom, and don’t even wish to put that in an atmosphere that suggests that this is an option. We cannot wait. Our children can’t wait. It must happen immediately. We have to take care of our children.