HPSD seeks funding for school renovations

Hattiesburg Public School District (HPSD) officials, including school administrators and its board of trustees, are seeking public funding, possibly through a bond issue referendum, to pay for facility infrastructure needs it has identified and shared information about through a series of recent community meetings.

And the district has the city’s mayor, Toby Barker, in its corner. On Feb. 27, Barker and HPSD Superintendent Robert Williams announced their joint effort in seeking public support for funds to make those improvements.

“The people of Hattiesburg appreciate the place that public schools holds, and its importance for our future,” Barker said. 

An election to approve a bond issue that could bring in approximately $20 million is being considered, but the HPSD Board of Trustees is still examining the district’s needs and considering public input. Such an election would require at least a 60 percent margin of approval from voters, and could take place in May or June of this year.

Williams, as well as city officials, believe the funding can be secured from renewal of ad valorem (property) taxes that are scheduled to “sunset” (expire), meaning there would be no need to increase current tax rates.

Williams said currently there are three options being considered for use of potential new funds, including:

• Priority renovation for all schools in the district

• Priority renovation at the high school and middle school

• Priority renovation at the high school

With any of the three proposals being considered, Williams said there would be some renovation to every school in the district.

“We want to provide the best learning environment possible for our students and our teachers,” Williams said.

 “Education is the most important thing we can invest in. Period,” said Wendy Atkins-Sayre, the parent of a student at Hattiesburg High School. “The (Mississippi) Legislature has not made education funding a priority, unfortunately. I’m hopeful that in a strong, college town such as Hattiesburg that we can come together and make this investment as a community.

“There are so many exciting things happening in our town. Now is the right time to make a renewed commitment to strengthening the schools that serve the kids of Hattiesburg.”

Mary West, a 1984 graduate of Hattiesburg High School, recently returned to the city a few months ago. She attended a community meeting at Thames Elementary Feb. 27 to hear more about the proposals for improvements to schools in the district.

West said she likes the direction in which both the city and school district are going, and is supportive of making improvements to the schools, but wanted to learn more about the proposals. She said communities where she’s lived in California and Texas benefited from strong support of their public school districts.

“Good public schools can attract investment from industry, and improve the quality of life of a community,” West said.