/‘Why didn’t they vote for us’ Leland bond issue defeated in a Delta region plagued by crumbling schools

‘Why didn’t they vote for us’ Leland bond issue defeated in a Delta region plagued by crumbling schools

Nonprofit Mississippi News LELAND — Polls closed Tuesday at 7 p.m., but official results were not available until Wednesday at 3 p.m. What are we going to tell the kids? Patansy Hampton was sitting in a empty classroom, her head in hand, after trying to explain to students why a bond that would renovate their school wasn’t likely to pass. On Election Day, 615 out of 1,060 voters cast ballots for the bond issue. 445 voted against. The state law requires that at least 60 percent of those who vote in bond issue elections must vote for it. Although the measure was within 2 percent of passing, 97 absentee, curbside, and affidavit ballots had not been counted. To pass, eighty-two percent of the unopened votes would need to be in support of the bond issue. Although it was unlikely, it was possible. Although it was plausible enough to leave students, teachers and the community in uncertainty, most people had a foreboding feeling that the $8.75million bond issue would fail. Hampton stated, “I never imagined we would be sitting here 24hours after we voted. And still don’t know.” It was so close. It would have been amazing to have received 95 percent support for the bond. We could have celebrated. It would have excited the kids. They have questions. “Why didn’t we vote for them?” Why did they come here to do this? “You mean that we have to stay here like that?” she was asked by children. Hampton teaches Algebra in the high school’s high school. The air conditioner often breaks down for days or even weeks. The classroom heat index in Mississippi Delta regularly exceeds 100 degrees, leaving students to struggle to learn. She does her best to keep classes on track despite the heat but it is difficult because “you’re constantly interrupted with the lesson because [students] are complaining about heat.” Hampton stated that these are valid complaints. Hampton explained that the heat can make it difficult to complete 40 percent of the lessons you had planned. The heater can also cause the same problem in winter. Children bring blankets to school because they get so cold. The elementary school has heating and cooling. However, the roof leaks, floors crack and walls in the bathrooms are nearing collapse. It was confusing to many that the bond issue had not passed by 14 votes at Wednesday’s end. It’s disappointing, because it’s all about our children. It’s not about the adults. It’s all about the children in the district, both those who are here now and those who will come. It’s disappointing and a little disheartening, but we are persistent and we will return,” stated Jessie King, superintendent. The good news for the school district is the fact that, even though the bond issue failed to pass, it can still be on the Nov. 5 general elections ballot if the school board approves. They meet Monday September 16. King stated that he believes that misinformation spread on election day will be part of the work needed to pass the issue if it is on the November ballot. Despite the quiet weeks leading up Election Day, misinformation spread like wildfire the day of the election. King stated that he believes a lot was false information sent out. On Election Day, The Leland Progress posted a Facebook message that sought to discredit some of the rumors. “I received many screenshots of citizens sending me bad information on election day. “They were sending it to me, to say, “Is this correct?” The information included incorrect amounts of taxes [to raise], poor information about how money could be spent and not spent, and some people didn’t realize that the school was different from the city,” Stephanie Patton, editor at the Leland Progress. Others felt the bond issue failed because Kenny Thomas, the mayor, didn’t support the idea. “I’m going to not tell you that I supported it, and I’m certainly not going tell you that I didn’t,” Thomas stated during a Thursday interview to Mississippi Today. Thomas said that he had requested a meeting between the school superintendent, Patton, Patton, and the school board president. This was to discuss the next steps for the school. Thomas stated, “I wouldn’t sit down with them trying to figure something out if they weren’t supportive… I hope we’re able to pass this thing and hope to make some improvements on some things to improve the school.” The bond issue would have been used to repair structural problems in the school and build a new bathroom at the elementary school. Thomas stated that he felt the money could be spent on building completely new school buildings. “Some of the school’s foundations are solid. He said that it needs repairs. “But some school buildings are old and it would be much better if they were torn down and replaced with something new and state-of-the art.” The Leland School District isn’t the only one suffering from severe structural problems. This is a problem that affects many Delta Schools. Since a fire destroyed the West Bolivar Consolidated Schools District’s cafeteria and gym two years ago, the district is currently in the process to rebuild. North Bolivar Consolidated Schools District voted in January 2018 to close Mound Bayou’s high school. The district stated that the buildings needed $3.5 million to be repaired and it couldn’t afford to run five schools. Leland’s student enrollment has declined over the years, from 925 students during the 2014-2015 school year to 824 in the 2018-2019 school year. Part of how many students a school district has determines its funding. A decrease in enrollment means that less money is allocated by the state to school districts. Officials at the school said that they believed enrollment would rise if this bond issue was passed and the school was renovated. School districts are also consistently underfunded, despite declining enrollment and funds. The state’s education budget has been fully funded twice in the last 22 years. For example, the state legislature underfunded Leland School District $4,609,201 between 2007 and 2018. Delta districts are not able to make up the difference with local tax dollars, unlike other property-rich districts. The average income for Leland residents is $31,727, according to Census Bureau data. Local districts in the state have chosen to issue bond issues. This will raise local taxes if they are approved by the community. The Legislature has been known to consistently avoid raising state taxes. However, local governments have often had to pay the difference and have raised taxes at both county and municipal levels. 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 pay for infrastructure repairs in August 2018. If the bond issue is placed on the November ballot, some supporters of the Leland bond believe this will be what happens. Hampton is one example of someone who is determined. She said, “I am not a quitter.” “I wash my hands. Get up. Keep fighting, it’s worth it.” View the complete gallery._x000D