Let’s be clear. The cities of Biloxi and Gulfport are not challenging the need for improvements to Harrison County School District facilities.
The combination of student growth numbers, safety concerns, and antiquated facilities lend merit to the November bond proposal. Nevertheless, these cities have entered the debate to address a perpetual complaint raised by parents in Orange Grove, Eagle Point, North Gulfport, and Woolmarket.
These communities are inside the corporate limits of the two cities, but are also within the overlapping Harrison County School District’s boundaries. Their kids cannot attend city schools without additional cost. Interestingly enough, Long Beach and Pass Christian school districts cover their entire city limits, and even extend into the county.
It also appears that HCSD officials have followed the minimum statutory requirements to place this measure before the voters. What is being asked for is time to provide input to the proposed placement of (and improvements to) facilities within city boundaries, including the related curriculum and transportation changes.
Furthermore, the cities have no need to spend money related to the proposed bond issue, and will not do so. They are, however, legitimately seeking information as to how and where education tax dollars collected from city residents will be spent.
Voters are smart enough to make up their own minds on the measure.
Given the combined high percentage of Biloxi and Gulfport children attending county schools, wouldn’t it be prudent to think these municipalities might have some say as to the location, construction, and curriculum at these institutions?
If the answer is, “No,” then it is past time to change the district lines to allow the parents of the students affected to have a voice in the process. If the answer is, “Yes,” then why, all of a sudden, is there haste in pushing out an expensive bond measure without any collaboration?
Residents of the Gulfport communities, in a 2016 poll, responded, “Yes,” by an overwhelming 89 percent when asked if they thought students living within city limits should go to city schools. For reasons, which have yet to be clearly explained, Harrison County school officials do not support this notion.
These questions go beyond the mere quality of buildings, but open the door for discussion of a genuine problem impacting the education choices taxpayers have for the benefit of our children.
It is time to adjust school district lines to allow city residents to send their children to city schools. There is a simple and effective remedy allowed by state law to correct the problem - a vote of the Harrison County School Board can do it.
Outside of this discussion, our communities will soon learn of new educational opportunities that hold the promise of providing even greater curriculum options and career paths for students. This, of course, depends upon the willingness of our school leaders to embrace a larger picture, setting aside political divisions and barriers to progress.
Regardless of the outcome on November 6, the district lines conflict must be resolved for the ultimate benefit of all our children.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is raising the bar, and when it comes to education, making the best choices for our children should always be the priority. Even if there are differing opinions on to how accomplish this, civil discussions amongst partners almost always yield a better outcome!
(This column is an opinion piece jointly written by Mayors Billy Hewes and Fofo Gilich.)