Biloxi parents voice concerns over 'repurposing' Gorenflo Elementary School

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS ( WLOX) - The debate over the fate of three elementary schools in Biloxi brewed again Thursday. The Biloxi School Board held a workshop to learn about the potential impact of closing either Beauvoir, Lopez, or Gorenflo Elementary. It was also a chance for parents to speak up about the controversy.

"The school board toured all four of those schools this morning," said Biloxi School Board President Kenny Holloway, as he opened a workshop Thursday morning.

Biloxi School Board members are doing their homework, before deciding whether to "re-purpose" one of three elementary schools. They poured over pages of data that detailed operating costs, school zones, and student population projections for all the schools in the district.

"We're a little bit down from where we were a year ago in January '08 for our total enrollment," said Biloxi School Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale.

Tisdale pointed to low enrollment, few housing developments, and state budget cuts as reasons to consolidate. He initially suggested closing Gorenflo as an elementary school, and using the campus as an alternative school and other educational programs. Some parents raised questions about that proposal.

"I'm not sure why is it that Gorenflo is the school that's being considered for re-use instead of Lopez," said Linda Perkes. "I wondered if you considered Lopez being the older school. Gorenflo is state-of-the art and newer. Have you considered splitting the students from Lopez so some of them go to Jeff Davis, and some of them who are within walking distance, and certainly within bussing distance of Gorenflo, going there?"

"The students that are currently at Lopez could be better suited at the other schools," said Biloxi Councilman Bill Stallworth. "The alternative school and others could be put into Lopez because it is a smaller campus."

Stallworth also heads the Hope Coordination Center in Biloxi. He says families are moving back to the east end of town.

"Last year, we built 100 homes. And those are newer families coming to the area or coming back to the area," said Stallworth. "This year, we anticipate building the same amount."

"I'm as optimistic as the next guy, but what I'd tell you is when you look at the numbers so far, you just don't see a lot of growth in that area," said Tisdale.

The school district spent millions of dollars to build Gorenflo just five years ago, so the parents want it to remain an elementary school.

The Biloxi School Board is expected to discuss the school "re-purposing" issue again next Tuesday and could make a decision then.

Also during the workshop, two grandparents urged the board to close the alternative school, called The Center for New Opportunities at Fernwood.

"My grandson comes home and tells me, 'I go to the bathroom. You know there are spiders in that bathroom? I hate bathrooms. Why can't I go to PE? We can't go to PE because now the gym's torn down and the auditorium, it's got rats in it'," said Terry Westover. "The children and the teachers there deserve better."

"If you move them downtown, I have to drive him all that way. And I'll do it with a smile on my face because it's the best thing for him," said Merry Hancock. "Fernwood should be closed."