JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A day before more than 20,000 students return to school in Mississippi's second-largest district, residents will decide whether to approve a $65 million bond referendum.
Supporters say reauthorizing property taxes that are otherwise set to expire will help repair aging schools in Jackson.
Sixty percent of votes cast by Jackson residents Tuesday must be in favor of borrowing for the referendum to pass, under state law.
The district already has the state's highest property tax rate. The 5 mills in question would be worth $50 for the owner of a $100,000 home. The taxes were approved by voters to support previous borrowing that has now been paid off, and if voters reject borrowing, taxes will fall.
Sharolyn Miller, the district's chief finance officer, tells the Clarion Ledger that the vote won't cause taxes to rise any higher.
Officials said the borrowing is needed to boost the district's accreditation status due in part to poor building conditions. A 2017 investigative audit cited the district for exposed electrical wires and poor drainage systems, among other issues. The district will have to make the repairs to be restored to good standing.
Last year, board members also voted to shut down four elementary schools, saying they were too costly to repair amid declining enrollment. Students also protested conditions at the district's schools during the 2018 legislative session.
"I've grown up attending schools where the structural integrity is questionable, where some bathroom stalls are empty because old pipes are hard to fix ... where you pray while walking up the stairs because the railing fell off," Murrah High School student Kaitlyn Fowler testified. "I've taken important tests in 60-degree classrooms and 90-degree classrooms. I've bought my weight in hand sanitizer because soap is rare."
Although there has been little vocal pushback to the idea that the repairs are needed, there has been some skepticism over what will happen with the funds.
City Councilman Kenneth Stokes requested that Jackson board members commit to completing projects that school officials listed as priorities.
The board created a bond oversight committee that'll have representation from each of the city's seven wards. Committee members will also receive updates of the bond's progress but will not have the ability to make bid decisions as they hold no voting power.