Bond’s approval a huge plus
On May 7, Marshall County voters approved a school bond issue of $8.985 million to repair and improve the infrastructure at its four campuses -– Galena, Byhalia, H.W. Byers and Potts Camp.
Although voter turnout was dismal, the issue passed easily with 1,195 votes
(88.45 percent) cast for the bond issue and 156 (11.55 percent) against it. Turnout was only 9.38 percent (1,356) of the eligible 14,458 registered voters.
School district superintendent Lela Hale responded to the following questions regarding the election and school district needs. A question and answer (Q.& A.) format was used in the interview.
Q. You pushed hard for this bond issue in order to improve the infrastructure of Marshall County’s schools. How do you feel about it passing and the voter turnout?
A. I am elated that the bond passed. It will provide much-needed repairs and renovations to make our schools safer and more efficient for students and our staff. Since it was a special election, I expected the turnout would not be as great as the regular election. I feel the voters who are concerned about our schools came out and supported the bond.
Q. How soon do you think the school district will need another bond issue since consultants said the district needs about $26 million to cover all repairs and additional classroom needs?
A. The school district may need to consider building projects in phases for the future. Potts Camp School is the oldest building with the main building built in 1924. It was added onto twice in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Byhalia High School replaced its 1921 building 20 years ago. Those are just facts. We have to consider how safe and efficient they are. Four campuses – Galena, H.W. Byers, Byhalia Elementary, and Mary Reid Elementary have buildings that were built in 1958. Our buildings won’t last forever. We may be spending more on utilities due to inefficient roofs, windows, doors, and HVAC systems. It’s hard to say when we will need to start building new schools. We just need to be aware of the issues the buildings have and try to replace them or start adding classrooms onto newer existing buildings as we have funding available.
Q. You went to great lengths to promote this bond by going to each community to explain the need and answer questions. Do you think this made a difference in the bond issue passing?
A. Yes, I believe the community meetings and our P-16 Advisory Council members were supportive in getting the bond passed. We could not have done it without them. We needed to listen to our stakeholders and what they expected. They needed to hear about the limitations as well.
Q. Having accomplished this effort (to get the bond issue), have you applied for the position of superintendent? [Hale’s elected term expires in December, and the superintendent position switches to an appointed one by the board.]
A. I was told by board members in February when they announced they wanted to have a superintendent’s search that I could apply. Although I didn’t know at the time whether or not I would, I told them I planned on working hard until my term ended in December.
That’s how I was reared, to work hard and complete the job. My goal is to make improvements in order for our students to have a better quality of life when they graduate.
All of the efforts may not show in the three years I have been the superintendent, but I would like to be given a chance to continue what’s been started. Our students deserve better opportunities. That’s why I have applied.
For instance, the graduation rates (which we feel will be significantly higher than last year’s rates) for this year’s seniors won’t show up until the fall of 2020. Our algebra and biology scores are also a year behind. I understand we have to provide the opportunities our students deserve. That’s why I have applied.
Q. There are reports that Byhalia’s performance is looking better this time around. Do you have any information on the prospective school performance ratings to come out this fall?
A. We have graduation rates based on last year’s graduates. Byhalia’s are the highest. Our focus is to increase graduation rates even higher for all high school seniors. We have continued efforts to provide tutorials and diploma options, such as New Learning Resources Online and Ombudsman. ACT WorkKeys scores have increased for all seniors over the last years. Through ACT WorkKeys, seniors have an industrial certificate showing the level – bronze, silver, gold, or platinum – each has attained.
More seniors and juniors have enrolled in dual-enrollment courses with Northwest Community College. We have elementary students and junior high students enrolled in the Duke Tip Programs to increase an awareness of the need to take the ACT earlier, especially before the junior year.
Byhalia recognizes students who score 22+ on the ACT. Additional rewards are given, as well, at Potts Camp and H.W. Byers schools. ACT scores afford students eligiblility for college courses starting in their junior year, which saves parents money in the long run and gives our students a head start on college credits. Some students leave high school with 12 or more college credit hours.
All of these variables are factored in the school accountability model. We are constantly analyzing data to raise accountability scores.
Yet, the MDE, is also inconsistently changing the components of the model, like adding the English Learner and changing the way points are calculated. Our schools have to adapt and adjust to those changes.
Q. If you wanted to build a new school, where would it be?
A. Byhalia Elementary needs classroom space. Potts Camp and H.W. Byers need additional classrooms. We need to phase out the portable classrooms. If we could build on all of the campuses, it would be nice. The trustees will help to make the decision based on the overcrowding and needs.
In hindsight, I wish we had had more input from our communities. Of course, we could have used more funding to build schools. It’s hard to predict whether a bond that would have raised taxes would have passed or not. (This bond issue did not raise taxes). I know we needed money to make the repairs; I’m grateful for the start we will have on that endeavor. Future planning certainly needs to begin now.
From what I heard, many stakeholders wondered how the schools have deteriorated to the state they are in today. State and local funding is not enough for the upkeep and to build new schools. Some years, MDE (Mississippi Department of Education) has made budget cuts within the year, which leaves districts like ours with even less money by the end of the year.
As one inspector who came to assess our needs stated, “We need a big pot of money.”
“Yes, indeed, we do,” Hale said.