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Board of Education holds public meeting on school consolidation

The Board of Education called a meeting last Monday to discuss with the public the future of the Jefferson Davis County School System.  The Board commissioned a Capital Improvement Report by Volkert to determine how much money could be saved by consolidating the county’s schools.

Letters were sent to some churches, personal phone calls were made regarding the meeting, and notices were posted at each school.

Many members of the public have expressed concern over lack of knowledge of the meeting. According to Superintendent Ike Haynes every effort was made to contact as many as possible and all rules regarding public meetings were followed.

Volkert, a Professional Engineering, Planning and Environmental Consulting Group, presented a PowerPoint with options for the school system regarding the best way to consolidate.

This report was paid for by the Board of Education.

Two of the board members, Rev. Jesse Holloway and Von Norwood made their position very clear in favor of consolidation. “Regardless of anything, it is necessary for the kids to get this done,” said Holloway.

Board member Walker stated, “I am here to hear from the constituents, now is not the time to make a decision.”

Board members Bass and Boleware did not voice an opinion during the meeting.

The economic impact on Bassfield and Prentiss was a topic of concern from the audience members.   Holloway stated that, “Business is not our immediate concern, but the best interest of the kids.”

Other questions revolved around getting our education standards to a college acceptable level first, then maybe enrollment would climb.

The plan recommends consolidation of Prentiss and Bassfield High into a new consolidated JDC high school built for 600 students at a cost of $30.6 million.

The cost includes a 600 student capacity, 128,000 square foot facility ($23.8 million), football/baseball/softball complex ($4.7 million), new field house ($2.1 million).

The sports complex, auditorium and practice gym would not be built until after 2018.

There are three main revenue options: General Obligation Bond (GOB), Limited Tax Note and  Loan against 16th section Fund.

The meeting immediately brought much discussion throughout the county which led to Bassfield Mayor Pat Courtney addressing the Board of Supervisors at their bi-monthly meeting this week.

“As Mayor of Bassfield, I have strong concerns about the closing of Bassfield High School and the consolidation issues. The negative economic impact on Bassfield and Prentiss would be huge! I am concerned we would lose residents by them moving to another county,” said Courtney.

“More concentration is needed on the academic and economic issues before consolidation is considered. Non-consolidation would attract people to move to Jefferson Davis County. I love the small community spirit and interest that is shown everyday with our fellow citizens. We need our schools!” Courtney added.

She asked each supervisor to voice their opinion on the consolidation.

Board President Bobby Rushing was unaware of the meeting and is adamantly opposed to the consolidation.  “The tax base and taxpayers cannot afford it,” Rushing said.

“I can’t say enough against this consolidation.  This county is in good shape right now, we are maintaining, but this consolidation will be a burden to the people of Jefferson Davis County.  I don’t think our system is so broken that it can’t be mended,” added Rushing.

Corky Holliman stated, “I was not aware of meeting either, but it is a decision the local school board has to make, not us.”

Supervisor Michael Evans commented, “I am a servant of the people.  Whatever the people of District 4 want, that is what I will do.  I’m for the benefit of the people and will listen to their voice.  I don’t want a burden on anyone.”

Board members Rushing and Reid also voiced their concern about the jobs to be lost for JDC residents and what would happen to the buildings that have had recent improvements on the school campuses.

“I’m against it.  I do not think it is time,” said John Thompson, Supervisor.

“We cant afford it;  bottom line. These two schools have never gotten along.  You put Prentiss students with Bassfield students and you are going to have a school shooting,” said Supervisor Charles Reid.

Prentiss Mayor Charley Dumas issued this statement regarding consolidation: “Without knowing all the details being considered and whether or not consolidation is in the best interest of the students or county’s school system, I would hope school officials will carefully consider the profound effect that such a decision will have on the communities of Prentiss and Bassfield, as well as the taxpayers of Jefferson Davis County.  Any decision made without having a vast majority of support throughout the county would be unwise, in my opinion.”

There will be two additional public meetings regarding consolidation. Times and dates have not yet been decided upon.