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Requests for state assistance turned down

Nissan-led growth challenges Madison school officials

CANTON — By the time Madison County voters passed the $55-million county school bond issue in May 1998, the largest funding source in a $68.3-million countywide building project, Madison County schools were already overcrowded.

Voters had passed a $16-million bond issue in 1993, but subsequent bond issues of $37 million in 1995 and $49 million in 1997 had failed.

When the $930-million Nissan project was announced in 2000, Madison County school officials fast-tracked the building program. Even before Nissan announced a $500-million second phase last month, officials had begun formulating additional plans to accommodate unprecedented growth.

“We’re seeing a spike in growth, an average of more than 4% a year for several years,” said Mike Kent, Madison County Superintendent of Education. “It looks like we’re going to be above that number for the coming year.”

When the Yellow Creek site in North Mississippi near Iuka was considered as a site for a new power plant and later a Boeing rocket engine plant, the state built a state-of-the-art high school for anticipated growth, which never happened. But the state has not stepped in to help with anticipated growth in Madison County when the Nissan plant opens.

“We have approached the Legislature on several different occasions and while they are sympathetic, they have not offered any solutions,” said Kent. “When the plant is established, we’re going to have to build additional buildings and some creative funding mechanisms will have to be developed for school districts like ours that experience unprecedented growth.”

The City of Madison plans to acquire Madison Station Elementary, which serves grades K-2 and is located in downtown Madison, and relocate the school’s 1,200 students to a donated site west of I-55, said Kent.

“The city has asked us to help them construct about two miles of road to get to the site,” Richardson confirmed.

Even though Madison city officials could not be reached by press time for this story, the city is expected to construct a town center, which would include a new city hall and other civic service centers. Several years ago, the city purchased and renovated the building on the grounds of Madison Station Elementary that now houses the Madison County Cultural Center.

Funding the new facility, which is expected to cost around $7.5 million, will come from $2 million in bond money set aside to renovate Madison Station Elementary and Rosa Scott Middle School and from the sale of the land to the city for approximately $5.5 million, said Kent.

The district also plans to build an estimated $4-million elementary school in the Camden area — the Velma Jackson Elementary School was not addressed in the 1998 bond issue — and is formulating plans for renovations of Rosa Scott Middle School after students move to the new Madison Middle School next month. Among other possibilities, Rosa Scott is being considered for a business and commerce center.

Projects included in the $55-million bond issue:

• A new $16.8-million high school that opened last fall in Ridgeland, alleviating overcrowding at Madison Central High School, one of the largest high schools in the state at the time it was built;

• A new $6.4-million elementary school for grades 3-5, located adjacent to Madison Avenue Elementary, which opened earlier this year;

• A new $13.8-million middle school, located on Highway 463 in Madison, which opened this winter. Rosa Scott Middle became an elementary school for grades 3-5;

• Renovations and upgrades totaling $1.7 million at the Velma Jackson campus in Camden;

• Improvements totaling $1.2 million at Luther Branson Elementary School; and

• Improvements to Madison County’s older schools, such as removing asbestos tile and replacing it with vinyl tile or carpet, roof repairs or replacement, painting, heating and ventilation repairs and site work.

“We’re also seeing an emerging need for additional programs in ESL (English as a second language) for all grade levels,” said Kent. “We’re seeing a large influx of Asian and Hispanic students and those programs are becoming much more high profile.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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