CANTON - Superintendent Ike Haynes admits he could have done a better job of communicating with the public his plans to transform the school district and how a $33 million bond issue fits into that equation.

Haynes spent the better part of this week meeting with people across the district, including a Wednesday informational meeting at Lake Caroline.

On Tuesday, voters in the Canton Public School District will vote on whether or not to approve a bond deal that would fund the construction of two new schools, as well as incorporate technology in the district.

That, however, is not how the district will be "fixed," Haynes said. It's just one piece of the puzzle.

"I started as superintendent with an entry plan," he said. 'That's been out there on the school website for public consumption since July.

"I understand it's difficult to ask people to vote to increase taxes," he continued. "I want to make sure people have the facts."

The plan is to build two new elementary schools: McNeal Elementary and Canton Elementary. Also, the intent is to build a ninth grade academy at Canton High and implement a 1:1 laptop initiative for high school students.

The cost: an increased burden on taxpayers that equates to 8.9 cents on every dollar for residents and 10.2 cents for every commercial business. It would be the second hike in less than a year, coming just five months after a 1.05-mill increase (generating roughly $228,000) that went into effect in October.

Homeowners with a $75,000 home will pay roughly $65 more in taxes next year if the bond bill is passed, and business owners with a $150,000 business will owe an additional $153.

Haynes said brick and mortar buildings won't improve test scores alone, that it's just one part.

Some in Canton, however, are skeptical of the bond issue, saying not enough information is known and that new buildings won't solve the district's problems.

Chip Matthews, a Canton businessman who owns two residences, questioned the six-week timetable from announcement to vote in a previous interview with the Journal.

"With proper time and proper information on exactly what we are planning to do, I'd be 100 percent behind it," he said. "But, I can't get behind it if I don't know what it is and it feels like it's being railroaded on the people in this community."

Haynes said he respects Matthews and his comments only empower him to relay more information to more people.

"Tigers to the Top is how we improve the school system," he said. "Building schools is just one of the components.

"I inherited a district that is a 'D' district," he continued. "I inherited a district in a community that for many years has been very concerned about the direction. I'm dealing with the fierce urgency of now."

He added, "We need to improve and we don't need to wait until the state takes us over. I don't have the luxury of waiting."

The bond issue is one component of Tigers to the Top. One goal is to accelerate academic achievement and ensure grade level reading by third grade. Another goal is to ensure an effective teacher is in every class and led by an effective principal.

Haynes said one way to attract the best teachers is by being competitive in terms of buildings and technology.

"That's one of the central points of Tigers to the Top," he said. "We must recruit the best teachers in the classroom. These new buildings will be a remarkable recruitment tool."

John Scanlon of Canton thinks taxpayers are being sold a bill of goods though.

"...the Canton Public School District has significant systemic problems that have contributed to substandard academic performance consistently for over a decade," he wrote in a letter to the Journal. "That's it - significant systemic problems in administration, personnel, or teaching methods that have constantly put our school system's academic performance at the D or F level."

Scanlon said teachers already receive a 10-percent higher supplement to teach in Canton over other districts and that should make a difference in teacher recruitment now.

He also took issue with the election held at just one polling place, Nicols Middle School. Haynes said they decided on one polling place to save money.

"The bond issue will not solve the real problems of the Canton School District," Scanlon concluded. "More money seldom solves the problem, particularly when 'more money' is not part of the logical solution set."
Haynes respects the naysayers, but adds that the district is a "banana peel away" from being a failing district.

"It's always a difficult proposition to ask people to pay more, but I believe once they read Tigers to the Top and realize this superintendent actually has a plan to improve us, they'll get on board," he said. "We haven't quite hit rock bottom yet."

Haynes added, "There is always going to be a comparison between the Madison County schools and Canton schools and we pale in comparison. Those are just the stark realities."