November 25, 2020

School district seeks $8 million for security, building upgrades

A Mississippi school district is seeking to borrow up to $8 million to pay for security improvements and facility upgrades.

Brookhaven School Board members voted Tuesday to call for a vote on the bond proposal May 7. The proposal will require support by at least 60 percent of the voters to be approved.

Director of Finance Cheryl Shelby said the district will finish paying its current GO bond of $5,345,000 in March.

“The bond, if passed, will not require a tax increase for members of the community and will allow for much needed safety and security upgrades at all schools,” Superintendent Ray Carlock said in a written statement provided at the meeting. “In light of the uncertainty in the world today, as seen in recent violent acts in schools across the country, we must show our community that we are committed to ensuring the safety of our students and faculty in the Brookhaven School District at all times.”

Carlock wrote that approval of the bond issue will also allow schools to be equipped with more efficient and economical heating and cooling systems.

“Brookhaven students deserve a safe and comfortable environment in which to learn,” wrote Deputy Superintendent Rod Henderson, who was also present at the meeting at the district office. “Our students are always our priority, and we know that our community feels the same. The Brookhaven School District has always been able to depend upon a strong backing from the residents of Brookhaven, and we are counting on them to support this bond issue to help us create more secure and up-to-date facilities for our students, faculty, staff and entire community.”

Bond attorney Jim Young explained the process to the board Tuesday, adding there will be public hearings and public notices published “letting people know where to vote, making sure everybody understands how the money will be used and we don’t anticipate a tax increase.”

Board President Willie “Doc” Harrison asked if Young was sure about that.
“There’s no way for this bond later on down the road to cause taxes to increase,” he asked.

Young was hesitant to give an absolute answer.

“I can’t say never, never,” he said. “If your tax base got cut in half? I can never say never. But if your tax base remains where it is now, the value of your tax base remains where it is now, it will not cause the mills to go up.”

Millage is determined by how much money the school district requests annually, said Brookhaven City Clerk Samantha Melancon. The district requests money for maintenance, vocational, capital expenditures and debt service and the city sets millage based on the amount they’ll need to fill the order. That is billed to taxpayers in the form of ad valorem school taxes.

If the school district doesn’t require as much to cover debt services, it’s likely that taxes could decrease. If the debt service continues at a similar rate, and other factors remain the same, taxes won’t likely increase, she said.

“The notion here is as the old one is paying off you just come on with the new one to take care of the current needs without raising the mills on taxpayers. That’s what a lot of districts have been doing successfully,” Young said.

Before the current GO bond was issued in 2006, the district paid a $7.3 million GO bond that was issued in 2000, according to newspaper archives.

Young said the district’s new GO bond can’t be over $8 million but it can be less.
“Looking at some numbers we think that $8 million is right around the level we can borrow without raising the mills,” Young said.

The GO bond would be for a maximum of 20 years, he said.

Carlock gave a rough estimate of $500,000 that would be spent to upgrade security in the district. He said the district must do a better job protecting students and staff.

“Foyers on the buildings, you can walk in, you can go right on down the hall,” he said. “We can watch the best we can but we’re really not set up to stop anybody.”
The new security measures will create a holding area that requires permission to get past the principals’ offices.
“They’ll hit a button and doors will unlock and you can go through,” Carlock said.

There will be external door sensors and more cameras installed. Every door of every school will be wired electronically to be locked remotely.

“If there’s something going on and we have to quickly shut down the place, they’ll have a button in there and ‘Boom’ you can lock every door and then they can figure out what’s going on. That’s truly what a lock down is.”