By: Bracey Harris, The Clarion-Ledger
Five years after voters widely rejected a $169.5 million bond issue, officials with the Rankin County School District are hoping the second time will be the charm, with a bond proposal slated for early March. The school board has not set an amount for the issue, but leaders are providing options of what would fit within the $185 million maximum bond capacity allowed under state law.
Fifteen years have passed since voters last approved a bond issue, with more than 80 percent signing off on a $69 million proposal. Since then, officials say the state’s third-largest school district has grown by 4,550 students resulting in the use of what Rankin has deemed 182 “temporary educational spaces,” including portable classrooms. In some instances, storage spaces have been repurposed for classroom use.
“We have teachers in book rooms,” said Superintendent Sue Townsend. “At Stonebridge Elementary, every book room had air conditioning so we could have classrooms in there.”
While plans have not been finalized for the district’s eight school zones, a facility analysis by Broaddus and Associates, the Bailey Education Group and McKibben Demographics lists a new high school in the Northwest Zone, classroom additions, fine arts facilities, electrical upgrades and infrastructure repairs as key needs. Dining facilities are also expected to be addressed. Overcrowding has led to longer lunch blocks, with the district’s dining facilities running at 126 percent of their designed capacity, according to the report. Also eyed are multipurpose facilities and career and technical academies. The proposal has an estimated increase of 5 mills, which translates to an annual tax increase of $50 for property value assessed at $100,000.
Consultants said the county’s current school district tax rate of 51.55 is the lowest in the metro area. With the increase, Rankin’s rate would become 2 mills higher than Madison County. As part of their efforts to woo the community, Townsend and members of the Rankin County Board of Education have embarked on a two-phase “Great to Best” listening tour to share zone options.
The district’s first post-recession bond attempt in 2011 failed to muster the 60 percent required to pass. This time around there’s reason to believe the success of the the issue hinges as much on what’s included in the proposal package as what is not. While stands across the district were packed this fall for home football games, leaders have stipulated that unlike 2011 athletics can not be on the ballot if the bond has any chance of passing.
During a stop last week at Brandon High School focused on possible facilities improvements and additions for schools in the Brandon zone, Townsend told attendees while she had heard from parents eager to see another bond issue, she was also warned across the board “you better not include athletics in this.”
The one exception, she said, is Puckett High School, where football players have to cross Mississippi 18 multiple times to reach their dressing facility. Townsend added on game days, Puckett police must stall traffic while escorting teams from the stadium to the locker room.
“That makes me a nervous wreck,” Townsend said. “I can’t lay my head on the pillow knowing there’s something I need to strongly address.”
Lesa Whities told The Clarion-Ledger placing students back in traditional classrooms will be her priority when the bond issue comes to vote.
“(Athletics) that’s why everybody was so against it when it didn’t pass the last time. They were trying to build new football stadium and we had kids in portables,” she said. “That’s my whole issue. I’m not going to agree to anything athletic unless they get kids out of the portables and then we could do athletics.”
Whities is willing to make an exception for the Puckett dressing facility, however, believing it to be a matter of safety more than sport. The “Great to Best” listening tour concludes with a session at Northwest Rankin High School Monday. It starts at 6:30 p.m.
The final plan will be presented to the school board at its Jan. 11 meeting.
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