With the start of a new school year just hours away, the city of Jackson voted overwhelmingly to provide the Jackson Public School District with millions of dollars to complete much-needed infrastructure repairs.
Jacksonians went to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to renew $65 million in bond debt from an earlier $150 million bond referendum passed in 2006. Tuesday’s referendum earned more that the 60 percent necessary to pass — officials can begin bidding out contracts for construction projects spread between the 56 school buildings.
Final, official totals were unavailable as of press time.
“It gives so much hope to our students — it demonstrates to them that the adults are behind them 100 percent,” board chairwoman Jeanne Hairston said after the vote. “We are so excited and joyful at this wonderful outcome.”
Around 9:30 p.m. a small group of school board members, district officials and other supporters who were gathered inside a room at Hal and Mal’s restaurant in Jackson erupted into cheers when the election results were called.
In July, the school board created a what it called a citizens oversight committee to provide public input and monitor construction projects. Hairston said the district will begin looking to add members soon.
Executive director facilities and operations Don McCrackin said the first priority will be to fix necessary repairs listed on a state audit. About $15.5 million of the bond funds will go to addressing problems pointed out in an investigative audit by the the Mississippi Department of Education. Some of the facility violations include issues with leaking roofs and failure to maintain buildings that meet the state’s standard of safe and sanitary schools.
The list of projects is long and varied. Some schools will have HVAC units replaced, gym floors repaired and athletic facilities renovated, among other projects.
Prior to the vote, Mississippi Today spoke to several JPS students about their experiences in school buildings — many campaigned on behalf of the district urging their city to vote in favor of the referendum.
“I feel great about this and extremely hopeful about the changes coming,” Murrah high school student Khai Thompson said immediately after the vote.
Students will return to schools Wednesday.
Since the city is reissuing bond debt the district had previously paid off, property tax rates for Jackson residents will remain unchanged.
District officials said repairs will begin as soon as possible.