OKOLONA – The Okolona School District saw students in cold classrooms last winter and is looking to improve buildings and athletic facilities in a $2 million bond issue to be decided by voters on Aug. 26.
The Okolona Board of Trustees voted 3-2 recently to seek revenue bonds that will make repairs at facilities across the district. The bulk of the funding will be spent at the Old Okolona High School that now houses administration offices and on heating and air conditioning repairs at Okolona Elementary School on that same campus.
Okolona School District was cited four years ago for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act with the Old Okolona High School specifically named as not being handicapped accessible. The district was told to meet federal regulations or faces fines for the infractions.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association has also voiced concerns with athletic facilities, specifically its basketball gym and football field.
The district has also been reported to the Office of Civil Rights about discrepancies directly related to Okolona School District that compare the state of district facilities to similar size districts across the state.
“This bond issue has been sparked by a need to have students in classrooms that are safe and adequately heated and cooled,” said Dexter Green, Superintendent of the Okolona School District. “We have leaking roofs at several buildings and it’s time to perform needed maintenance.”
Green said money in the bond issue will also go to enhance the new football field and help the Chieftains move from the current football stadium on Highway 32 next to the National Guard Armory to new field closer to the high school.
“We are currently renting that field for $4,000 annually and don’t own the property,” said Green. “We’ve had difficulty making needed repairs at Wilson Park.”
The old football field has repeatedly had sanitation problems with its bathroom and payment for lighting at the facility is an ongoing concern for the city.
Green said the bond issue has been fraught with miss-information and untruths in the community.
“It has been reported that the three-story building was structurally unsound,” said Green. “We had NewPath Consultants examine the building and they say it is structurally sound.
“This is not a $40 million bond issue,” Green added. “And neither I nor anyone else in the district will get a pay raise from this money.”
Green said the major reason for the bond issue is heating and cooling issues.
“Last winter was severe and we seriously considered not having classes some days because the rooms were so cold,” said Green. “We should never have children in that situation. When students are that cold it isn’t conducive to learning. Our teachers should not have to work in those conditions either.”
Green said district playgrounds are not safe and part of the bond issue will upgrade those facilities. He pointed out physical education is required by the state.
Green said the district has made improvements in academics since it came out from under state control almost two years ago.
“That’s what this school bond election is really about, it’s about providing our students — our children – with the same learning environment that can be found in other school districts,” said Green. “We want people to look at the facts and make an informed choice on what is right and best for our children.”
Green said if the bond issue is successful the tax increase on a $100,000 home would go up about $98 a year.
The election is for residents of the Okolona School District.
Residents of the City of Okolona vote at the library located at Okolona High School. District residents residing outside the city limits – east Chickasaw County and extreme west Monroe County – will vote at Okolona Elementary in the Parent Center.