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BOE undecided on what to do with $950K from old school
Funds from sale of former Sallie Z. campus yet to be allocated
W Old Sallie Z -Front View

At its most recent meeting, the Bulloch County Board of Education remained undecided on what to do with $950,000 from the sale of the old Sallie Zetterower Elementary School campus.

With a June 23 deed signed by Chairman Mike Herndon and Superintendent Charles Wilson, the board transferred the old Sallie Z. school on East Jones Avenue to a limited liability company called South Main PTP, which received a two-thirds interest, and John E. Lavender, who received a one-third interest. These buyers paid exactly $1 million.

Manack Signature Properties, which marketed the property, and Coldwell Banker Tanner Realty, as a broker chosen by the buyers, split a 5 percent commission, or $50,000. So that left $950,000 for the school system.

"We have deposited the money, but the issue is, we have to specifically designate it to a fund," Wilson told board members July 14. "The conversation, really, was about whether we want to put that into the general fund or whether we want to put it back into capital projects."

Some of the discussion had occurred in emails among board members and Wilson before the meeting.

"Based on the feedback I've got from the board, I'm going to recommend that we deposit the proceeds from the Sallie Z. sale into the general fund," Wilson said.

District 2 board member Mike Sparks made a motion to do so. Herndon, who as chairman retains a regular vote, said he would second the motion "for discussion," but District 5 member Glennera Martin officially seconded it.

District 1 member Cheri Wagner said she didn't know if all the other board members had seen an email she sent. Her biggest concern was that the new Sallie Zetterower Elementary on Cawana Road had been built using Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax money, making the sale of the old school possible, she said.

"The new Sallie Z. was built off of SPLOST money, which was what we put out to the public that it was going to be used for," Wagner said. "The sale of the old property is a result of the money spent out of the SPLOST, which is part of the facilities. Therefore, I strongly feel the money should go back into facilities."

Building priorities

Neither building projects nor general-fund deficit spending were discussed in detail during the meeting. But board members alluded to both in their differing views on what to do with the real estate proceeds.

In March 2015, the board dedicated the final $2.5 million expected from the current Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to the top 12 projects from a list of schools' needs prioritized by a countywide committee.

The five-year educational projects SPLOST authorized by Bulloch County voters runs through 2018, but money has been spent in advance through bond financing. It has been supplemented by state funding for some projects, such as a new roof for Stilson Elementary School.

An effort to improve and equalize athletic facilities is reflected in projects such as a new fieldhouse and concession stands costing more than $999,000 being completed at Portal Middle High School.

But athletic facility improvements for Southeast Bulloch Middle School, Langston Chapel Middle School and William James Middle School were also in the 12 priorities, and haven't been funded.

General fund deficit

Meanwhile, on the general fund side, the board approved raises to all employees and provided more local money to all 15 schools beginning last year, while not raising the property tax millage rate. After a decrease in the fund balance from a starting point of about $19 million last year, further deficit spending is projected to reduce the reserve from $16.4 million to $12.6 million in fiscal year 2017, which began July 1.

District 4 board member Steve Hein said he had been "supportive of both, kind of in-between" on whether the money should go to facilities or the general fund. He called it a "win-win" to have the sold the old school for $1 million, after the board held out for a higher price than the buyers first offered.

Hein leaned toward putting the money toward facilities, he said. But with SPLOST bringing in about $10 million a year, the $950,000, he observed, equals about 1/50th of the revenue that a new five-year SPLOST referendum might bring.

"So really, in the bigger picture, it doesn't amount to a huge amount of money," Hein said. "It's not going to stave off the need for entertaining passing a SPLOST or entertaining the possibility of a millage rate (increase)."

But applying the money to facilities projects, he said, would "give the people exactly what they asked for."

Herndon asked, and Wilson confirmed, that if the money were placed in the general fund, it could be transferred later to capital projects.

"There's an argument both ways," Herndon said. "I don't know that we can necessarily hash it out and get it decided perfectly tonight, but we can always decide on a project and work toward moving the money over to that project if we need to. So it's not a final thing."

When Wagner asked what the money would be spend for if placed in the general fund, Herndon said, "My idea is that it go to reduce the deficit."

The motion to put the money in the general fund failed. Only Sparks, Martin and Herndon voted in favor. Board members Jay Cook, Maurice Hill, Hein and Wagner opposed, and Dr. LeVon Wilson was absent.

So the money remained undesignated after the July 14 meeting. The board meets again Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at its central office on Williams Road.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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