It appears that the Simpson County School Board’s decision to move forward with a consolidated high school for the county comes despite the objection of board member Stacey Herrin.
At a recent meeting of the board, Herrin, who represents District 5, said that she believed that the board had agreed only to further study of consolidation as a possibility for the district, not to actually moving ahead with the project. From her comments, her major objection to consolidation seemed to be based on the cost to county taxpayers for a new facility. However, according to the minutes of the meeting, Herrin had not voiced her objections until after the vote was taken and recorded.
Herrin chastised Board President Danny Cowart for making the issue public before a decision had been made by the board. She was referring to Cowart’s comments about the consolidation project at a recent lunch-and-learn given by the Simpson County Development Foundation.
For clarification Herrin was told to refer to the minutes of the October 14 meeting for the board’s actual decision. The section referred to as Superintendent’s Report on that date says, “The Board voted to pursue a consolidated high school and consider options for financing.”
After that meeting, this newspaper reported on October 21 that the board had agreed on a five to zero vote to move ahead and explore options with regard to consolidation.
Herrin said her vote really did not matter because the others were “going to go ahead” and do what they wanted to do.
Board Member Lillie Hardy suggested it was an issue of semantics and indicated that the consolidation issue was not final.
Cowart said the decision had been made to move ahead. He consulted with Board Attorney Wesla Leech, who confirmed his position that the board had approved moving forward with a consolidated high school.
Cowart explained that he and Superintendent Dr. Toriano Holloway had been invited by the Simpson County Development Foundation to present the program for the Foundation’s Lunch-and-Learn program. Herrin countered that Cowart presented actual drawings for consideration. At that meeting, Cowart did show architectural renderings as potential options as well as suggesting a potential location for the facility.
Herrin told the board that they all should be “kept in the loop” when it came to school projects, implying that was not the case.
Cowart said that in fact the Foundation had invited them to attend the luncheon. He explained that he was showing only possible options for the district to consider. The plan he showed featured a high school facility with athletic fields. Cowart was not specific about the location of the high school but told the Foundation that it would be centrally located and near the center of the demographic base.
Superintendent Holloway reported that the one high school concept had been discussed at community meetings in Magee, Mendenhall and Simpson Central. He said the district is appointing an advisory committee to establish two way communication between the district and the community.
Board member Stan Bulger said that in his opinion a consolidated high school is the best option, it is what all the studies have indicated and he was going to stand for what he thought was the best decision despite what any public opposition that may arise.
In other business the board voted to seek a $9.5 million loan to build a new consolidated facility. The proceeds of the loan will be used to pay off two former loans that were made in 2014.
The county is refinancing at 1.79 percent, which is a 1 percent lower interest rate, a significant savings on such a large amount of money. The original two loans were at 2.5 and 2.7 percent. PriorityOne Bank will be one of the institutions involved in the loan. The board intends to have the notes paid and submit paperwork before the close of the year.
This move will leave the school board close to $6 million in funds that can be used for a consolidated high school.