Lee Schools to ask voters to approve bonds

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Voters who live in the Lee County school district will be asked to decide in July whether to allow the district to borrow money to fund various campus renovations.
The district’s school board voted 5-0 at its regular meeting on Tuesday to put its bond request before voters on July 30. It will be the only issue on the ballot that day.
This would replace debt from a 1999 bond issue that comes off the district’s books in August.
That means if voters approve the new bond issue, their taxes will not increase. If they decline it, their taxes will decrease.
The exact amount of money the district will borrow would be determined by the interest rate at the time, said Superintendent Jimmy Weeks, but it would not exceed $13.5 million.
The district has not developed plans for how the money would be spent, other than to say it would allow classroom additions on some campuses and renovations on others.
“With interest rates as low as they are now … we are at a prime spot where we can pass a bond issue, borrow the same amount and not raise taxes one bit,” Weeks said.
Weeks said the district will hold public meetings to determine its plans if the bond issue passes. He said the reason they are rushing the vote is so they can include the money in this year’s budget and keep taxes the same. The budget request is due in August.
Otherwise, the debt would roll off and the district would have to ask for a tax increase when it made the request.
“We will go to the public for their input,” Weeks said of the planned meetings. “People in the public sometimes come up with better ideas than you had.”
Architect Rud Robison of Pryor & Morrow presented on Tuesday the results of a recent facilities study his firm conducted. Its suggestions included an additional two-story classroom building at Saltillo High, additional classroom space at Saltillo Primary and demolition of outdated buildings at Guntown Middle to be replaced with new ones.
The recommendation also called for new buildings at Plantersville Middle to allow the students from Shannon Middle to also be moved there. Under that plan, the Shannon campus would only house a high school and would be renovated with a new cafeteria.
Outdated buildings at Mooreville High School would also be removed or renovated. Shannon Elementary, Verona Elementary and Saltillo Elementary would all be renovated under the architecture firm’s plan.
Weeks emphasized, however, the district would gather public input before moving on any plan.
He said he did not know if plans would include building a new school to ease overcrowding.
“It could build one,” he said. “We’re not sure. We have a lot of needs across the district.”
Lee County Schools also recently refinanced a bond from 2003 that has 10 years remaining. The lower interest rate will save the district nearly $1.5 million, Weeks said.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I have never seen it where you can have a bond issue this size without a tax increase,” said board attorney Gary Carnathan. “You are very fortunate, and the people of the county are very fortunate you can do this without a tax increase.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com