Opinion: Hattiesburg voters should support Hattiesburg schools

By DAVID GUSTAFSON,

Admit it. Hattiesburg Public School District has a bad reputation. But whose fault is that? Probably yours.

For the last decade or more, upper and middle class families have fled the local public school district in droves – heading to outlying communities or even choosing to put their children in one of the city’s two private schools.

Unfortunately, that aptly-called “great white flight” has created a vacuum in this community that has decimated the Hub City’s once-vibrant school district and has left behind a wake of disgruntled teachers, frustrated parents and poor test scores. Not exactly an educational recipe for success.

But the good news is that the district has found a potential savior in the form of Dr. Robert Williams – the young, energetic, and fiercely-determined former middle school principal who was hired in 2016 as superintendent.

Since taking the helm, Williams has developed relationships throughout the city and has recruited help in every sector in an attempt to turn the district around.

And it seems to be working. 

Test scores are up. Attendance, too. Teacher morale is soaring and with the help of newly-elected Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker, community support for the district is at an all-time high.

But now it’s time for residents – and more specifically voters – to come together to support the passage of a sorely-needed bond renewal.

As Barker has said over and over, “our workforce, our economy, and our neighborhoods demand that our students have access to a quality education.”

“We are part of one city,” he said. “When we invest in the next generation, we ensure that we invest in one future.”

Tuesday’s vote should be a no brainer when you consider the following:

• A recent facility audit showed that some $40 million worth of repairs are needed throughout the district.

• The 4.84-mill bond renewal is expected to generate some $22 million for improvements throughout the district.

• Because the May 22 election renews a school bond that expires this year, taxes will not increase.

Come Tuesday, the biggest obstacle will almost assuredly be voter apathy. A May election is somewhat unusual and since a bond issue like this requires a 60 percent super majority, it’s imperative voters show up in droves.

Hattiesburg, no doubt, deserves a quality public school district. Let’s give our students the tools they need to succeed.

Vote Yes on Tuesday, May 22, and tell your neighbors to do the same.

One future. One city.

One Hattiesburg.

 

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