Barker: Bond vote sends message

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker said Tuesday night the landslide passage of the bond that is expected to bring in $22.5 million for the Hattiesburg Public School District sends a clear message.

“Our city tonight made a statement about where we place our values,” he said at a post-election party. “We have always said that Hattiesburg will only go as far as the public schools will take it.”

With a 93.97 percent approval, the bond renewal will go toward renovating and repairing schools in the Hub City. Only 60 percent approval was needed to pass the bond.

“Today, the people of Hattiesburg chose hope over fear, they chose optimism over pessimism, they chose commitment over apathy,” Barker said, saying the city’s residents pulled together for the election. “I really can’t say enough about the City of Hattiesburg, and we all know the enrollment situation. We all know we have two private schools, but even they saw the big picture. The parents of those students jumped in and helped pass this thing.”

Barker said the election results show how the city supports the school district and its current leadership.

“We didn’t have a single precinct with less than 90 percent, which shows the widespread belief in this school system,” he said. “Compared to where the school district was in late 2015 to what it is now, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that kind of turnaround. I can’t say enough about the leadership of (Superintendent) Dr. Robert Williams and the School Board.”

Williams said the election results were historic for Hattiesburg and Mississippi.

“As a matter of fact, I was looking at the history of bond referendums, and 93 percent is one of the highest,” he said. “I think I saw one that was 95 percent, but 93 percent is one of the highest bond passage rates in the State of Mississippi.”

Williams said the late Tuesday storms before the polls closed worried him about voter turnout. According to preliminary voting results, only about 10 percent of the registered voters in the Hattiesburg Public School District cast ballots.

“I’m always concerned by nature, but I am very thankful for the residents that came out and voted for the election,” he said. “It says that we care about our students and we care about our future.”

Barker, who has championed the Hub City’s promise for the future, bases the city’s success on its public schools.

“Our workforce, our economy, our neighborhoods demand that our students have access to a quality education and the 21st century skills,” he said in an earlier town hall. “We are part of one city, we invest in the next generation and we ensure that we invest in one incredible future. … Each generation has stepped up to the plate to invest in the next generation. That’s the beautiful things about the city is that we tend to do that.”

Barker added that the $22.5 million from the bond issue will move the school district closer to its ultimate solution. A facility condition audit showed that $35 million-$40 million of repairs were needed in the district.