Board hears proposals for closed schools

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Krystal Allan – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi School board heard proposals Monday night for vacant school properties in the district. There were seven empty buildings on the list.

They include:

  • The Howard II campus
  • Fernwood
  • The former Kennedy Marine Property
  • The Head Start building by Nichols
  • Michele 6th Grade School
  • Beauvoir Elementary School
  • Nichols Elementary School

The board closed Michele 6th Grade School, Beauvoir and Nichols Elementary Schools this school year. Superintendent Paul Tisdale made the recommendation to the board sighting economic shortfalls in the school's budget.

Though seven buildings were on the list, the proposals revolved mostly around one building, the now closed Nichols Elementary School.

Four people presented proposals. Three of the four focused primarily on re-opening Nichols as a school. The Save our Schools Coalition proposed re-opening the school after Christmas break on January 4, 2011.

The long-term focus is to develop Nichols into a Magnet School. A magnet school is a public school that offers highly specialized courses and programs. Funding for magnet schools comes primarily from school tax dollars and grants. The coalition says converting Nichols into a magnet school could open up other revenue streams for the school district.

"This magnet school would also allow those who are out of the area to come back in and pay tuition which is another way that the school district can build up their budgets," says Bill Stallworth from the Save Our Schools Coalition.

The Save our School Coalition is also asking the board to consider the use of funds from the Kellogg Foundation to help Nichols re-open in the short term.

According to the coalition, in a letter to the Biloxi schools, the foundation offered $1.5 million over three years provided the school is re-opened, a community advocate group is formed and supported by the board and superintendent, and a long-term plan is mapped out to sustain the school.

During the meeting, board members did entertain the idea of meeting with people from the Kellogg Foundation. In the past, the district has expressed concerns over possible strings attached to the money.

The meeting did include one proposal that didn't involve re-opening Nichols as an elementary school. Steve Witt, of the Greater Biloxi Economic Development Foundation, suggested a two-part plan for the school with an educational and economic focus.

"We could use it as part business incubation to launch some of these small businesses as we have in the past," said Witt. "I'm also proposing to have part of the facility serve the community needs by being a community center."

Witt says the school's layout is ideal to support a pod-style learning environment.

"You could have a technology pod, a childcare pod, an adult learning pod and a small business and business rental pod."

Among other proposals, Delmar P. Robinson, with the Biloxi Housing Authority, re-stated the authority's offer to buy the Howard II campus, Fernwood, former Kennedy Marine Property and Head Start building next to Nichols. However, he says the offer has been on the table with Biloxi schools for quite some time.

Another proposal included turning the Head Start building into a non-profit center.

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