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Bond, school changes to be discussed

by Minden Press-Herald

Two public meetings will be conducted at J.A. Phillips Middle School and Webster Junior High School to allow the public to see firsthand the changes that will be made and discuss the upcoming ballot proposition asking for a bond extension.

If approved by the board Nov. 2, one meeting will be set for 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 9, at Phillips and the other at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 10 at WJHS.

Officials will also again discuss the issues at J.E. Harper Elementary School.

“(The teachers) gave us a handout of about 20 bullets of why they have issues with the school the way it is,” Superintendent Dr. Dan Rawls said. “The two main ones were the noise…and the restroom facilities are inadequate to the point that children are in line all day.”

In a Webster Parish School Board buildings and maintenance committee meeting Monday, committee members Linda Kinsey and John Madden, along with school board member Frankie Mitchell, discussed with Perry Watson, of Yeager, Watson and Associates LLC, a draft brochure that was emailed to Rawls. If approved by the full board in November, it will be distributed to the students in the affected schools to take home to parents.

In the brochure, the issues leading to the decision to call for a bond extension on the current 29 mill ad valorem tax for district 6 are listed. It also gives an outline of the plan to close J.E. Harper Elementary and add a wing at Phillips and a wing at Webster, moving kindergarten and first grade students to Phillips and moving the sixth grade to Webster.

Inside the brochure will be site plans at each school of what will be changed and what will be added.

Madden took some issue with the fact that additions to the plans had been made when it wasn’t completely what the board voted on over the summer. In the draft brochure, a gymnasium has been added at the WJHS site to handle the influx of sixth grade students.

“I do like Mr. Watson’s plan,” he said. “I have no problem with it. I don’t like the way in which it was done. It’s hard to believe that we’ve gone from voting on two wings and renovations at Phillips to being able to add a gym the size that we’re adding and still be within budget. In my estimation, I believe we’ve been hood winked a little bit into voting for such a high bond proposition. True enough, there will be some unknowns, no doubt about it.”

Watson says they reduced the classroom sizes in order to accommodate the new gymnasium for the sixth grade wing at Webster, adding that bond attorney Grant Schleuter has advised the board can ask for up to $7 million without increasing the millage.

“We started out the conversation beginning with about $6.25 million, then it went to $6.5 million,” Watson said. “Then Grant Schleuter told us late in the game, after the two wings were designed, with some renovation included, that you could do $7 million instead of $6.5 million and still not increase your millage. So we upped it to $7 million, and that’s when I reconfigured and looked at the estimate in more detail.”

Watson went on to explain that by reducing the classroom sizes, the extra $500,000 would offset the cost of the gymnasium.

Another concern raised is making sure the public knows how much money is going to be generated and how much taxpayers will be paying. An additional concern is whether the school board will have to dip into district 6 funds to complete the costs of the project up and above the $7 million.

The brochure and the dates of the meetings will be added to Monday’s agenda of the regular school board meeting, set for 6 p.m., Nov. 2. A buildings and maintenance committee meeting will take place at 5 p.m., followed by a finance committee meeting at 5:30 p.m.

The bond proposition will be on the Nov. 21 ballot.

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