Area schools get $30 million in loans through stimulus package

JACKSON – Twelve Northeast Mississippi school districts have been awarded a little less than $30 million in no-interest loans for construction and renovation projects as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The grants will be used for a variety of purposes from constructing new classrooms to aiding with the replacement of window air-conditioning units with central units. The air-conditioning upgrades are being done in the Lee County School System.
In Tupelo, officials said they are using the funds for renovations at the Tupelo High School Fine Arts Center, to upgrade equipment in classrooms and perhaps to work on refurbishing historical windows at Church Street Elementary.
The bonds are being awarded as part of the stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law earlier this year by President Barack Obama. Under this particular program in the stimulus package, school districts are awarded a bonds on a first-come, first-serve basis by the state Board of Education.
Martez Hill, the chief deputy superintendent at the Mississippi Department of Education, said the state will receive another pot of money to be awarded to the school districts next year for similar projects.
“Basically every application we received folks are looking to do renovations,” Hill said. “These are welcomed dollars for local districts, but not enough to build a school. Some districts are looking to expand by adding classrooms, but for the most part they are looking at making renovations.”
Hill said financial institutions that provide the bonds for the school districts receive tax credits.
“That is the inducement,” said Hill, explaining that the plan helps school districts while also spurring activity in the financial markets.
Hill said some congressmen wanted to include direct grants to local school districts for construction projects as part of the stimulus package. But the bonding provisions were included as a compromise.
The bonds must be paid back over 13 or 14 years.
The state has received $132.4 million this year that is being divided among 50 school districts. Plus, the state is scheduled to receive that amount the following year for bond projects.
The loans the districts are receiving on a first-come, first-serve basis – as long as they are used for an approved project – are between $200,000 and $3 million.
In addition to the $132 million going to the 50 school districts, the Jackson Public School District can receive up to $15 million in no-interest bonds because the system falls into a special category because of its size and large enrollment of disadvantaged students.
The Prentiss County School District opted not to take its $3 million bond issue because it is not enough to build another school. Stephanie Rebman 8/18/09 remind readers how much they had requested and the limits were not understood at the time of application. But Superintendent Matt Smith said the district might apply again next year for the ensuing round of bonds.

Stimulus projects
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act bonds awarded to Northeast Mississippi School Districts:
• Starkville – $3 million for construction projects under way at school sites.
• Tupelo – $3 million to do work at Tupelo High School Fine Arts Center, to upgrade equipment in classrooms and perhaps to work to refurbish historic windows at Church Street Elementary.
• South Tippah – $2 million for construction of Pine Grove Activities building and Blue Mountain cafeteria and for replacement of roofs for classroom buildings and maybe for new classrooms at Ripley Elementary.
• Pontotoc City – $3 million to construct eight-10 classrooms at Pontotoc Elementary and for four classrooms at D.T Cox.
• Tishomingo County – $3 million for construction and repair on numerous education buildings.
• Corinth – $3 million for renovations at Corinth Junior High, upgrades at Corinth High School and for athletic facility improvements.
• Itawamba – $3 million for new classrooms at Itawamba AHS and for new roofs at AHS, Tremont High School, Vo-Tech Center and at Central office and for other renovation projects.
• Pontotoc County – $3 million for new classrooms at North Pontotoc, and for cafeteria work at North Pontotoc and at South Pontotoc and for equipment purchases.
• Union County – $3 million for electrical upgrades at West Union, East Union and Myrtle and for classroom additions and renovations to all campuses.
• North Tippah – $200,000 to fix septic tank at Chalybeate Elementary.
• Lee – $3 million to remove 143 window air-conditioners at six schools and replace with central units and to add six classrooms at Guntown Middle School.
• Baldwyn – $1.75 million for classroom and support additions at Baldwyn Middle School and other renovations and equipment purchases based on availability of funds.
• Prentiss – Construction of a high school and other repair and renovations.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal