Houston schools to borrow up to $1.5 million.

LOGO HOUSTON School RAMHOUSTON – The Houston School Board of Trustees has voted to borrow up to $1.5 million to purchase seven new buses to compliment its aging fleet of 26 vehicles.

The motion to approve the note and sale of bonds was made by Trustee Marvin Beard with a second by Trustee Bart Munlin. Board President Daniel Heeringa and Trustee Carol Byrne supported it. Trustee Thomas Howell was absent from Monday night’s meeting.
The board noted there was no formal opposition to the sale of bonds and purchase of the buses. The district had spoken to the issue of buying buses at their May meeting where they also voted to give raises to non-certified employees and administrators.
A legal advertisement had been published in the Chickasaw Journal newspaper for the past two weeks.
Houston Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker said the district had not purchased a new bus in nine years. He pointed out many of the district’s buses has 500,000 miles on them. He said some have almost 700,000 miles,
Coker said while people have asked him details of the purchase, no one has been negative about it.
“I think people realize there is a need and two-thirds of this community’s children ride those buses twice a day,” said Coker. “I also think people realize we need dependable transportation and this is an upgrade that will also make our children safer.”
Bids have already been taken and seven Empire buses will cost about $75,800 each. The buses will have a capacity of between 55 and 66 students. All will have diesel engines and all will have heavy duty suspension.
Coker said there have been problems getting students to extra-curricular events and ballgames. He said the district had held off from making the purchase as long as possible.
The bond resolution said the district can borrow up to $1.5 million for buses, building repair, heating and air conditioning repair and fixtures. The district had estimated the actual purchase of the buses to cost about $525,000.
“This is for just buses,” said Coker. “There are no buildings or construction in this.”
The board’s action was coupled with two other votes.
On a motion by Byrne and a second by Munlin the district approved a resolution to issue a note and hire bond council or lawyers to assist in the sale. Heeringa and Beard voted in approval, also.
On a motion by Munlin and a second by Beard the district pointed out a legal advertisement had been published announcing the sale and no petitions against the note were made to the board. Heeringa and Byrne supported this resolution.
State law says a petition by 20 percent of the school district’s qualified voter can stop trustees from borrowing money.
The district will levy a special 3-mill tax on assessable property in the Houston School District to service the note.
The 10-year note is being purchased from BancorpSouth at 2.9-percent interest.
Millage rates also vary from town to town and school district to school district.
Houston’s millage rate is 89.85 and Okolona’s is 114.25.
A one-mill increase in the Houston School District raises about $57,000 based on last year’s tax rolls. A one-mill increase in the City of Houston raises approximately $28,000. A one-mill increase in Chickasaw County raises approximately $90,000.
State law allows school trustees to raise ad valorem taxes 4-percent without a referendum. An increase of more than 4-percent requires the issue to be put to a vote, which must pass by 50-percent, plus one vote.
The ultimate taxing authority rests with the Board of Aldermen in Houston, Okolona, Houlka, Woodland and the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors. Those bodies have traditionally approved school district tax increase under the 4 percent threshold. The law is also rather vague on this tax increase since it also says cities and counties must pass balanced school budgets. Not passing a tax increase could give the district a budget deficit.
The legal pointed out there are no funds available in school funds to pay for the cost of this project.
The district did vote to give $61,412 in raises to non-certified employees and administrators at their May meeting. Those raises saw $39,850.48 allocated to non-certified employees and $21,562 going into the paychecks of district administrators.
The district’s certified employees or teachers were given a $2,500 raise to be implemented over the next two years by the Mississippi Legislature and that legislation was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant in April.
Coker said at the May meeting the district has not given raises in several years and these across-the-board pay increases are needed. Non-certified employees include cafeteria workers, office personnel, maintenance and custodial workers.
The state recommends buses be replaced after 10 years or after so many thousand miles for safety reasons. Many of Houston’s buses are past that 10-year window.
Trustees have been told this vote at this time should allow buses to be purchased and delivered this fall.

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