‘Small enough to work against its own good’: In Natchez, old fears fuel doubt about the future

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Layne Browning in Natchez.
NATCHEZ — Layne Browning, a white man in his early sixties, can’t understand why Natchez, of all places, needs $34 million to build a new public high school. Enrollment is down and, he points out, that’s not even the district’s biggest problem.
“They won’t study. They just don’t care… ” Browning said, referring to the students at Natchez High.
Last year the community voted down a measure that would have increased taxes as a way to fund $34 million in bonds and lease agreements for the new a high school and repairs to older buildings. After a chancery court judge declared the bonds legal this summer, a Natchez resident appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.
“And it looks like they’re going to get our damn money anyway,” Browning said.
Browning, a gravel voiced retiree with a stomach that pushes at the sides of his red T-shirt, is drinking beers with a couple of other local men around noon. The watering hole, which overlooks the river, sits in one of the oldest buildings in a town already known for its very old buildings.
“Yeah, just build ’em a new school, it’ll make everything better,” said Brian Simpson, sarcastically, with a chuckle. Simpson, a former farmer turned crop insurance adjuster who wears a cap over his red hair, is drinking a Michelob Ultra three bar stools down.
Brian Simpson and Aylett Dicks in Natchez.
Aylett Dicks puts down his Budweiser and grimaces. Dicks, a lifelong Natchezian, has a thick, black beard more befitting a lumberjack than part-time archaeologist, which is his odd-job of the moment.
“The school buildings are not the problem. It’s the teacher’s pay. It’s the size of classes,” Dicks said.
In the months leading up to Election Day, Mississippi Today reporters crisscrossed the state talking to people about the issues that matter to