Last week, the Hancock County School District Board of Education hosted its first meeting in the district’s new administration meeting. 

The board discussed several matters, including concerns with safety surrounding Stennis Airport, district janitorial services, and senior activities. 

Stennis Airport Director Chanse Watson addressed some of the board’s concerns. 

“I believe aviation is important to our county, it’s the gateway to our county,” Watson said. “You can go anywhere in the world from our airport. It’s very important, but it’s also important to serve a community role and be a team player in our county. And I would love to address any concerns on the airport.” 

Board President Jennifer Seal shared some concerns that she’s heard from parents. 

Seal said that while increased air traffic is beneficial to the county, the “safety of our students and faculty and staff are of great concern, as well.” 

The district has several facilities out on Stennis Airport Road including, Hancock High School, Hancock Middle School, and the Performing Arts Center. 

“The larger planes that are actually coming in, they’re running on a north, south entry and exit into the airport, and I think they’re very careful about working in that zone,” she said. “There’s a lot of student flight traffic, is my understanding, is increasing over time. What I’ve heard concerns is that the students and the local traffic are over the school district. Is it possible to have a no fly zone over the school areas?” 

Watson said that the airport’s air traffic control manager had a prior commitment and couldn’t make the meeting. 

“We discussed mitigating or reducing the amount of over flights over the school,” he said. “If possible, what they try to do is direct everybody over on the west side of the field, more into the buffer zone. When air space gets congested, we have single-engine traffic. So trying to sequence and get these aircraft in, sometimes there is aircraft over the school. I think we can do a better job of having it closer out to 603 or further east than directly over the school or shift them west when possible. Safety is also our goal. Anything that we do or how highly regulated safety is always our concern. We have a fire department on the field 24 hours to help us in response.” 

With regards to a no fly zone, Watson said that there might be a more feasible to mitigate air traffic. He said that he can also arrange a tour of the air traffic control center. 

He said that designating an area as a no fly zone or restricted air space next to an airport would probably be “very difficult to do.” 

“Stennis air space is from the center point of the airport, two-and-a-half miles each way, so a total of five miles in diameter,” he said. “The eastern boundary of our air space is Diamondhead Airport, the western boundary is two-and-a-half miles west of the airport. So we’ve got five miles of air space to work through.” 

He said that the airport also uses the air space over the buffer zone. 

He said that traffic is picking up. Last year, the airport had about 31,000 operations for the year. This year, he anticipates about 35,000 to 36,000.

Watson said he would work with the district to address some of its concerns, including safety and noise. 

In a separate matter, the board also discussed the pros and cons of awarding a bid for the district’s janitorial services versus in house.

HCSD Superintendent Alan Dedeaux said the district received six bids for the service. After reviewing the RFPs, Dedeaux said that AGS Cleaning Services Corporation had the best and lowest bid at $869,730 annually.

Dedeaux said that he talked to several school districts that the company works for and all had positive things to say about the company. 

They were really applauded for their management, communication with corporate and local people, they (other districts) were very impressed with that,” Dedeaux said. 

Seal brought up the option of performing the janitorial services in house. 

She asked the other board members if they were interested in pursuing that option. 

Board member Richard Loper said that he is opposed to that idea at this time. 

“Some of the reasons are money,” he said. “The second thing is, is the problems that we are seeing in our country at this time. And it’s not knocking anybody professionally at all, these type of salaried people are not working right now. You have restaurants, I’m talking Chili’s in Gulfport, local restaurants here, they’re closing on weekends because they don’t have enough staff. So, if you think we’re going to bring it in-house, yeah, we’re going to have more control, but you’re not going to have employees and it’s going to be a revolving door.” 

Seal said that the district doesn’t have  a say in what in their salaries are, and if people are getting paid $9.11 an hour, “you can’t change that. And how are you going to attract people unless you have benefits like through the school district, being a state employee, having a higher salary, attracting a better quality type of employee or a better paid employee.” 

Loper also said that the cost of providing in-house janitorial services would double for the district. 

Dedeaux said that the district has looked into the costs of in-house and the estimated cost to start up would be about $1.8 million. 

Seal said another of her concerns is the constant work orders that are issued for basic services every day. 

Loper asked for a breakdown of how many are received from each school. 

“I mean, if there’s five from one school and then we have 200 at one school, because then that to me, it becomes a personnel issue,” he said. “And we could have an administrator that just wants a change, whether they like or not. I could send work orders all day at my job, doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong.” 

Seal said she understands that, but the district is paying for the services. 

“But that does mean it’s going to change?” Loper said.

Seal said that the district has done this for “quite a while now” and “keep coming back to the same spot.” 

“What does it take to think of something different than what we have been doing is my question?” Seal said. 

Loper said that he would rather “take the gamble for half the price.” 

“We’ve been doing that,” she said. 

School district attorney Mark Alexander said that this contract with AGS has clauses included to protect the district. 

“We have clawback and termination rights for non-or inadequate performance,” he said. “We’ve strengthened some of the areas in the contract where we know we’ve had bad experiences to protect the district.” 

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rick Saucier said that the initial contract is for three years. 

Seal said that her biggest concern is for “our students and for our employees to go to a clean environment every day.”

The board unanimously approved a motion to award the contract for the district’s janitorial services to AGS. 

In another matter, Hancock High School Principal Tara Ladner presented the board with a proposed list of senior events for 2021. 

“We wanted to plan normal typical events and several things have happened with the CDC going from six-feet to three-feet from vaccinations to trends we’re seeing,” she said. “At the high school level, we’ve been quarantining students within six-feet and zero of those students have come back and said ‘I have Covid.’ We don’t see the spread at the high school level. We felt like while students are masked, we can put together a robust end-of-the-year program.”

Ladner said that the most “contentious” thing the board would see on the proposal is Senior Assembly, which is scheduled for May 14. 

According to the proposal, the “Senior Assembly will be held on the football field. The event will be streamed live on Facebook for viewing. The senior slide show will be shown at commencement on May 20. Due to the number of students involved and the capacity of the stadium, guests are not permitted.” 

“Senior assembly is probably the biggest and best commitment to graduate ceremony that we do,” Ladner said. “It’s always been important for me to have the underclassmen sitting in the stands watching it, because I want them to know that this is where they will be in just a few short years. We pushed around a lot of ideas about limiting parents and allowing them to come in and see it. But, when you’re dealing with two full classes, the senior class and the junior class, and then you end up saying maybe we can do one a person, maybe we do two a person and get that many people in the stadium. It was one of those cases where we either do it this way or we don’t do it. So, I wrote a purchase order for a live streaming to occur. We’re going to do it with the same company that we live-streamed graduation. Anybody, everybody that wants to see it can see it. We’ll put our seniors on the field, our juniors on the visitors side and our freshmen and our sophomores on the home side and spread everybody out. Let the kids participate and get their senior assembly. But we are not inviting parents.”

Ladner said that she and her team felt it was the best course to get it done for the students, which she said was her goal, and do it in a “safe way.” 

She added that the board members will be invited to attend. 

Board member Danita Holladay said that senior assembly is also for parents. 

“And I have been to every football game in every stadium, Biloxi, Hancock, and we have been crammed on those stadiums, both sides,” she said. “And now of all of a sudden, parents can’t come to this. That’s the problem I have sometimes with the district is that we forget the parents are part of the senior assembly. I’ve spent 14 years getting my child here. My child is important to me and I’m important to him. And if he wants to look up and know that his mother and dad are going to be there. Now, I’m going to be there and you’re going to be there for child because you’re a principal. You have to think about how we feel as parents. I go to basketball games and anybody that’s been in a basketball gym and we’re crammed in there. But now, when we’ve got two side bleachers and we’ve got an extra one that can we pull out. Pull it out. Put some parents there. Let one parent per child come. We’ve got a whole football field. Every parent deserves to come for this. I just think it’s unfair to parents because parents are part of this district.” 

Ladner said that the amount of crowd is an issue. 

“This is what we felt we could safely do for our students,” Ladner said. “I can’t speak for how MHSAA is governed and I realize it’s run by the same school district.” 

Ladner said she has made her concerns known about the athletic events. 

“I can only tell you what I’m in control of,” she said. 

Dedeaux said that Ladner gets input from her sponsors and other teachers. 

“We’re looking at CDC guidelines so that we can make that happen for our seniors,” he said. “This last year has been anything but normal and if anybody else can say that they’ve had a normal life this last year.” 

Holladay said that it hasn’t been normal for parents either. 

“But, we all get left out of all these decisions,” she said. 

Dedeaux said the district would do it’s best to include parents in the discussion. 

“We always try to include everyone,” he said. 

The proposal of events was not listed on the board’s agenda so a vote to approve or disprove was not taken. 

“It’s not on the agenda to vote and we don’t tell the high school how to conduct their business,” Seal said. 

Dedeaux said the district will continue to monitor the situation and hope that the CDC and MSDH will relax some of their regulations. 

The only item on the board’s agenda concerning the end of year senior events was the “approval for Hancock High School to hold prom at Hancock High School in May 2021,” which the board approved unanimously. 

The next meeting is scheduled for May 3 at 5:30 p.m. 

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