The option to move the kindergarten and first grade students to J.A. Phillips Middle School and the sixth grade students to Webster Junior High School passed with a vote of 7-4, with one absent.
In favor of moving the elementary students from J.E. Harper Elementary School were board members Brandon Edens, John Madden, Johnnye Kennon, Penny Long, Frankie Mitchell, Jerri O’Neal and Ronnie Rhymes. Against the move were board members Jerry Lott, Charles Strong, Ronnie Broughton and Malachi Ridgel. Linda Kinsey was absent.
It was made clear during the meeting that no one was absolutely against building two new wings – one on Phillips and one on Webster – but it was what to do with the Harper facility once it’s vacated.
Broughton says he wouldn’t support the effort if the school was torn down. Other members were in favor of repurposing the building, but Lott says he was against the idea because there was no clear plan on what to do with Harper and they would need a clear plan in order to garner the support to pass an extension of the current 29 mill ad valorem tax already in place.
“I would have a hard time supporting a proposal not knowing what we’re going to do at Harper,” Lott said. “We’re going to have a wing at Phillips, a wing at Webster, we’re going to move 700 kids and $6.5 million, and we’re going to abandon the school that’s one of the newer schools in town. Are we going to tear it down, rent it or use it for something else? That ought to be part of the package.”
Ridgel says if they aren’t specific in the entirety of the proposal, it won’t pass.
“We need to be as specific as we can and let the folks know,” he said. “When you start talking about taxes, you have to be specific.”
Mitchell says during the public meetings both at Central Office and Harper, this option was discussed as well as funding options, even though nothing was concrete at the time.
During discussion, it became clear that the board will have to ask voters to extend the tax, which will sunset in 2024.
Board member John Madden, in Monday’s meeting and in a previous special called meeting made it clear that a total of $6 million might not be enough to cover all the expenses.
Attorney Grant Schleuter, with Foley and Judell in New Orleans, says mills would not have to be increased if they don’t ask for more than $6.5 million.
“There is no increase in the current 29 mills that’s being levied for all of the outstanding bonds for District 6,” Schleuter said. “$6.5 million is the maximum that could be issued without a millage impact, but that’s based upon reasonable estimates that you could go to the voters with a not-exceeding $6.5 million in general obligation funds.”
He says with the next available election date on Nov. 21, the board would have to have two school board meetings roughly 45 days apart and the intention to ask for a ballot proposition would have to be announced. So in order to meet these state law requirements, the board’s intention would have to be announced at the board’s July 13 meeting and run in the newspaper the required number of times as well.
Schleuter went on to say that general obligation bonds are the most secure bonds with the lowest interest rates.
A special meeting will be set to begin the process of gathering quotes for the project. The date and time will be announced as soon as it becomes available. The board will meet again at 6 p.m., Monday, July 13.