OUR OPINION: Support the bond issue for the Lee Co. schools

C0XY_E0M_72TN_djournal_our_opinion_stock_news_jisi_shane_2_300x225pxLee County School District supporters and officials need a 60 percent majority Tuesday in a bond issue referendum to make $13.5 million in major improvements and expansion on nine of the system’s 11 campuses.

The proposed facilities plan, conceived by the district’s board of trustees, Superintendent Jimmy Weeks and district architect Rud Robison, an alumnus of the county schools, would not require a tax increase because the amount of millage required to pay off a previous bond issue rolling off the books this year could be sustained and applied to the proposed $13.5 million commitment. The tax to service the debt would be about $40 per year on a house assessed at $100,000, the same as the issue retiring this fall.

School leaders directed Robison to develop a facilities plan identifying needed improvements but without full architectural/engineering designs because of cost considerations. Those would follow if the bond issue passes.

Keeping costs within the revenue already generated by millage on the books was intentional, and pushing the envelope for a summer referendum was calculated to smooth the transition into the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 for the county and school district taxation.

A more expansive plan arguably could have been considered, but the unfortunate political fact is that the prevailing attitude about increasing taxation is negative almost regardless of the cause.

The district has held three information/feedback sessions with school district constituents, and it has undertaken an information/advertising campaign. Some questions have been asked at the sessions but organized opposition is not apparent.

The project will include new buildings or wings at Saltillo Primary, Saltillo High School, Guntown, Shannon High School and Plantersville, with other improvements at other campuses. It will not include any new schools, a decision driven by cost considerations.

However, parcels of land are set aside in Mooreville, Shannon and Saltillo, so action can be taken when new schools are needed and money is available within statutory debt limitations.

“Maybe our ad valorem tax rolls will increase and it will mean more money to the district and we’ll be able to build a new school without requiring a bond issue,” Weeks said in an earlier article.

The district has also saved about $2 million to use on the proposed projects if the bond issue passes, which could raise the amount spent without increasing anticipated debt.
Lee County has a strong history of supporting its school system with successful bond referendums.

Most of the schools have made quantifiable academic progress in recent years, and some score at the highest level. Others, school leaders acknowledge, need more work and improvement.

To the extent that superior facilities enhance the atmosphere for learning the proposed bond issue reaches in the right direction, and we endorse its approval by the school district’s voters.

A strong turnout of supporters is essential because close does not count with the hard and fast 60 percent rule. Voting at all precincts with county school district voters begins at 7 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m.