JMCSS wants city’s help to build new $10 million Madison Academic

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Omer Yusuf, USA TODAY NETWORK

Earlier this month, the Jackson City Council created an education committee to work with the Jackson-Madison County School System to explore the possibility of funding the district’s new multi-million dollar Madison Academic Magnet High School on the University of Memphis Lambuth campus.

The newly formed City of Jackson Education Committee met for the first-time Friday morning at City Hall.

The committee has five councilmembers: chairman Johnny Dodd, Randy Wallace, Ross Priddy, Charles Bray and Vicky Foote, and they met for about an hour with JMCSS Superintendent Eric Jones to discuss his 10-year capital proposal.

Here are the two biggest takeaways from the meeting:

City of Jackson keeping ‘open-mind’

The Education Committee did not rule out funding the new school, but concerns were raised from the committee to Jones during the hour-long meeting. The biggest concern being the Madison County Commission’s involvement in the funding of Jones’ proposal. When asked by Foote how much the county has committed to his $144 million proposal, Jones said he had not gotten a clear answer.

Wallace, who is mostly opposed to funding the new school, said he did not want to tax city of Jackson taxpayers twice, since they are already paying taxes to the county — which is JMCSS’ funding body.

Another concern Wallace had was if the City Council approved funding the new school, the city would have to cut services from other parts of the budget to make up for the extra spending on education.

“If the county really stepped up to the table and helped fund a portion of this, I would consider it,” he said. “I’m not sure that even at that point I would (vote for that). I feel like it’s a county function and the county should pay the bills for it.”

Jones’ argument for building the new Madison school was it would be cheaper than making repairs in the current building, which is estimated to cost $13 million.

“This isn’t simply about asking for money and begging for funds,” Jones said.“These are all schools that are in need and (this) is part of (our) strategic plan to help move our system forward. I’m hoping the county will get behind us and support the work moving forward with our capital plans.”

The committee is also open to funding other projects if they are more pressing than building a new Madison.

The education committee agreed to meet with Jones again in the future once he had a clear understanding from the County Commission on how much it is willing to fund for his capital proposal.

Proposal plan ‘critical’ for JMCSS long-term

The JMCSS rarely asks for funding from the city,so Jones made it clear to the committee that without the city’s involvement, his proposal could fall apart — and lead to dire consequences for the school system going forward.

Over the next four years, Jones estimated the district will need about an estimated $60-65 million to stay on track with his 10-year capital plan. Broken down, $18-20 million would go toward building a new K-8 in the northwest cluster of the district, which was approved by the school board before Jones started as a superintendent. The remaining money would be put toward the following projects: $8-10 million for the new Madison, $15-18 million for a new middle school in east Jackson, and $16 million in priority projects.

“We’re at a critical impasse for our school system in general,” Jones said. “It’s not necessarily about capital, but what’s happening in those classrooms. If all things are not working together to move this system forward — we’re at a point in our school system that if things don’t change and change dramatically, we will not have students that are able to go into the workforce, or the quality of life that we currently enjoy in Jackson will not be the same five years from now, because what’s come from our school system will have a direct impact on our community.”

Dodd said he believes education is critical, and if the city can play a bigger part in improving JMCSS he is open to that possibility.

“The buildings that we have are just not in good enough shape,” Dodd said. “I don’t think that any kid should go to schools in some of the shape they are in. If we want to build our youth morale and teachers’ morale you will need to get better facilities for our kids.”

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