Lee County school officials explain their plan

Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks presents renovation plans for Saltillo Elementary School on Monday during a forum at Saltillo High School about the district's proposed bond issue. Weeks outlined the construction projects on which the district would spend $13.5 million in bonds. (Adam Robison/Journal)

Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks presents renovation plans for Saltillo Elementary School on Monday during a forum at Saltillo High School about the district’s proposed bond issue. Weeks outlined the construction projects on which the district would spend $13.5 million in bonds. (Adam Robison/Journal)

By Chris Kieffer/Daily Journal

SALTILLO – Turnout was light on Monday night during the first of three public forums to discuss the Lee County School District’s upcoming bond vote.

About 30 people attended the meeting at Saltillo High School and about half of them were school district employees. During the forum, Superintendent Jimmy Weeks and architect Rud Robison of Pryor & Morrow outlined how the district would use the $13.5 million in new bonds it would issue if voters approve them in a July 30 election.

For the proposal to pass, 60 percent of voters must say yes. It would not raise taxes because it would replace a previous bond issue.

Although the turnout was much smaller than the 100 to 150 Weeks originally hoped for, the superintendent said he was not concerned.

“It was a small turnout, but I didn’t know what to expect,” Weeks said. “It is a Monday night in the summer and folks are working and a lot of people are on vacation. It was maybe not the best time, but we didn’t have much choice.”

One question raised asked whether a successful bond vote would prevent the district from building a new school in the near future. School board member Ronnie Bell said it would not.

State law prevents districts from borrowing more than 15 percent of the assessed value of property in their district. That means Lee County Schools couldn’t borrow more than about $39.75 million at one time, Bell said. Currently the district has about $15 million in debt from a 2003 bond issue due to expire in 2022. Thus if the current bond passes, the district would still be able to borrow $11.25 million, he said, noting that amount would increase each year as the district pays more on its debt.

A new elementary school would cost about $8 million to $10 million, Weeks said.

That could be significant because Weeks said the eight new classrooms currently being proposed at Saltillo Primary will probably be filled in three to five years.
Bill Smith of Saltillo who had asked the question said he was satisfied by the answer.

“I wanted to make sure if future growth was needed, this bond doesn’t lock us in,” said Smith, who has children at Guntown Middle and Saltillo High.

Natalie Ferrell of Saltillo liked that the proposed projects would be throughout the district.

“I like that it is district wide,” she said. “It is not just in Saltillo. It will be everywhere, and it is needed.”

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com