CLARKSDALE – Voters here decide Tuesday on a $8.5 million bond proposal in support of funding new athletic facilities and renovations and repairs to schools in the district.
The voting will take place at the Clarksdale High School gymnasium from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In order to pass this bond referendum, the district will need 60 percent of the votes to be yes. In order to vote, the resident has to live inside of the city limits and pay school district taxes, according to Robert Tyner, president of the Board of Trustees of the Clarksdale Municipal School District.
If it passes, the $8.5 million bond issue will be paid through property taxes. The estimated tax increase per month range from $7.80 to $20.11 depending on the property value.
According to the Clarksdale Municipal School District website, under this special bond, the funds raised will:
• Construct a new football stadium, athletic field house and competitive tennis and track facilities on the grounds of Clarksdale High School.
• Replace the gymnasium floors, add a four classroom science lab, and a new library that meets current Mississippi Library standards at W.A. Higgins Middle School.
• Repair or replace leaking roofs at each school in the district.
• Repair the heating and cooling system at Clarksdale High School.
• Update windows at Booker T. Washington Elementary School and J.W. Stampley 9th Grade Academy to comply with current Mississippi Department of Education and building code requirements for safety.
• Replace the gymnasium floors at Kirkpatrick Elementary School.
“Our top priority is to ensure that the academic facilities are in such conditions that are conducive for students to learn,” said Tyner. “These improvements are to help promote and foster a learning environment.”
Tyner said this election is being held in early February because if the bond is passed, the construction process can start as soon as possible. No timeline has been set, he said. Tyner encouraged the community to support the bond issue on Tuesday by voting yes.
Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett said he is in favor of the bond although he can’t vote since he doesn’t live in the school district. He said the bond should help the district compete with other 4A classified districts educationally and athletically.
“We’ve got to compete globally now, and we need good infrastructure and good teachers to keep improving all the way around,” said Luckett.
Luckett said that he has heard some comments of concern regarding the tax increase.
“It’s going to increase taxes. There’s no way around it,” said Luckett. “You heard the saying that you need to spend money to make money? Well, you probably need to spend money to produce better graduates.”
Excecutive director of the Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce, Ron Hudson, said the chamber’s board hasn’t taken a position on the bond issue.
“In order for Clarksdale and Coahoma County to grow, you have to work on the school system,” said Coahoma County Supervisor Paul Pearson. He noted that he does not qualify to vote so he is unfamiliar with the repairs that would be addressed by the bond proceeds.
Sarah Trimm, a Teach for America leadership development coach and former teacher at Clarksdale High School, said she is in favor of the bond proposal because the schools are in desperate need of repair and upkeep.
She said she understands the concerns of those who are opposed because of the athletic facility, but athletics are a sense of pride for others.
“I’ve worked in the district for 11 years and athletics are a point of pride for many students and the facilities are in need of repair,” said Trimm.
Trimm noted that during her two years at Clarksdale High, faculty and students often had to travel off campus to celebrate student achievements. The addition of the baseball field at the school site a few years ago eased that issue, she said.
A new athletic facility can be huge not only for the school, but the community, as a gathering site for events other than just sports, Trimm said.
Lisa Moore, a former educator in the Clarksdale schools, said that she thinks this proposal would be a good idea if the schools that are in need of repairs get repaired.
“After reading about it, I can’t honestly say that it’s about fixing the schools, but more about adding stuff to Clarksdale High,” said Moore. “I believe that if this is passed the only thing the money will go for is sports at Clarksdale High.”
But Kevin Schultz, Clarksdale schools athletic director in 2012-2013 said passing the bond issue will “create opportunity for all sport facilities to be on campus and a sense of pride for the players and the coaches.” He said being able to play home games at your own stadium makes a dramatic difference for the players, coaches, and fans.
“The school district started a strategic plan for the improvement and building of athletic facilities when I was working at Clarksdale, and I was lucky to see the softball and baseball fields completed. So, to see the rest of the school district’s original plan come to fruition, is something that is great to see,” said Schultz.
Clarksdale native Ryne Gipson said it’s time for an upgrade in the school district.
“The quality of your schools play a major role when attracting people to your town,” said Gipson. “While some won’t support because it won’t directly affect their child, we all have younger family members here who would benefit greatly from this in the coming years.”
Joseph Fisher, a 2013 graduate of Clarksdale High School, said the schools are in much need of renovation. He said favored the upgrades to the school facilities in the bond issue, but said he’s opposed to newer sports facilities due to the lack of championship titles.
“If the students have a safer place that is more focused on education instead of sports, then more students would have better opportunities for college in as well as out of state,” said Fisher. “With the amount of renovations for the academic side verses the vast amount for sports renovations and upgrades, I do believe that the bond has way more emphasis on sports.”
Tyner said the district has a budget for repairs to its buildings, but this goes beyond regular repairs. He said there isn’t much to patch over anymore, and there are major repairs needed. The last successful bond was some 15 years ago to build the current Clarksdale High School, he said.
If the bond issue passes, Tyner said they aren’t sure at this point what will happen to the old facilities.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the vote was on Monday.