Could A Casino Rescue Long Beach Schools?

"What we need to replace are the tiles on the floor. They are mix-matched," said Quarles Elementary Principal Kenneth Sims. "And our doors are old and rusting."

Sims took Long Beach School Superintendent Carrolyn Hamilton on a tour of his school to show why the building needs a lot of work. But those needs will have to wait.

"It's general wear and tear," said Carrolyn Hamilton. "We're going to try and see what we can afford to do."

Hamilton says the district is in serious financial trouble.

"This would be the year that we're hit with our ad valorum losses," said Hamilton.

Hamilton expects to see as much as a 40 percent drop in property taxes in the coming year, since Katrina destroyed so many homes in Long Beach. To make matters worse, the cost of insuring schools has jumped dramatically.

"About a $554,000 increase," Hamilton explained. "That's a tremendous increase for a district our size, but that's all we could get."

Instead of cutting jobs and raising taxes, the school district is relying on federal Restart funding to cover some of the classroom costs. Those costs include hiring extra teachers, restoring libraries and other curriculum expenses.

But the Restart money is supposed to run out at the end of the year. So when Long Beach voters showed support for a casino in last week's non-binding referendum, Hamilton sees some hope in the district's future.

"We're several years away from getting any money from that," said Hamilton. "But from the districts that do have the casinos in them - Biloxi, Gulfport, and Harrison County - it means a lot to their tax base for students in schools. Anything right now that would support our tax base, so it doesn't all have to fall back on our citizens, yes."

For now, each school will have to do its best to keep the buildings in shape, until the district gets into better financial shape.

Other school districts are facing the same insurance troubles. Both Harrison County and the Bay-Waveland School Districts will have to pay $736,000 more to insure their properties. The Moss Point School District faces a $1.1 million property insurance hike.