These are the 12 top projects that need to be done at Bulloch County Schools, as determined by a committee:
1. New field house at Portal Middle High School
2. Bathrooms and concession stand improvements at Portal Middle High’s football field
3. Bathrooms at Portal Middle High’s baseball field
4. Connect classroom wings on one side of Nevils Elementary
5. Improvements to athletic fields, including concessions and restrooms, at Langston Chapel Middle School
6. Athletic field improvements at William James Middle School
7. Lengthen the main entrance driveway to prevent traffic backups at William James
8. Roof at Stilson Elementary School
9. Locker rooms and a covered facility for Statesboro High School’s baseball and softball teams at Mill Creek Park
10. Access for people with disabilities to Portal Middle High’s football stadium
11. Improvements to athletic fields at Southeast Bulloch Middle School
12. Install fencing around the playground at Langston Chapel Middle
While Bulloch County spent tens of millions of dollars building new schools over the past 15 years, some of the schools’ smaller wants and needs were pushed to the future, and some additional problems cropped up.
A committee of 35 people, representing all 15 regular schools and the alternative school, recently evaluated the remaining school needs. Each member assigned individual scores to each project, resulting in a ranked list of 37 projects.
With just the 12 in top-tier projects carrying a roughly estimated price tag of $2.5 million, this became part of a discussion of hard choices and equity in local funding of the schools at last week’s Board of Education meeting.
“Some of the facilities needs have been ongoing, some dating back to the late 1990s,” said Paul Webb, the school system’s chief operations officer. “Others were results of some unfinished business at some of the new schools, while others were the result of just some wearing out of old facilities.”
Webb and Board of Education member Cheri Wagner led the committee, and board member Mike Sparks also served.
The facilities committee met for the first time Oct. 30. A middle and high school subcommittee then met four times and an elementary school subcommittee met twice in November and December. Committee members saw presentations, often in PowerPoint format, on each project.
Principals identified 56 projects, but some have been handled by the maintenance department and others through already-scheduled work to improve school security, Webb said.
“Nineteen were addressed either immediately, or we’re in the process now of addressing those,” he said.
To see the remaining potential projects, the committee members took a bus tour to 14 schools Jan. 5. Each member then scored the projects using a point system.
Most principals named both a school member and a community member to the committee. A member of the county Board of Commissioners, Roy Thompson, served on the committee as the community representative for Portal Middle High School. Before Webb’s remarks, Thompson spoke to the school board.
“With this committee, there was never a raised voice; there was never any dissension,” Thompson said. “All we had was positive discussion, because we knew what we were doing. We were discussing for the benefit of the school kids of Bulloch County, and any improvement made at any school is a plus.”
The committee asked that the board, “laying politics aside,” follow the ranking of the projects in the order they were presented, Thompson said.
The list has three tiers, the first with 12 projects, the second with 11 and the third with 14. Only those 12 first-tier projects were considered during the discussion at Thursday’s board meeting.
Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown reported on the school system’s capital projects fund. This money comes largely from the school system’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, with advances from the sales of bonds, which the tax repays. By law, this fund can be used only for capital spending such as technology, bus purchases and construction.
By June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the fund should have about $1 million left. A new bond sale could provide $1.6 million more, this probably being the limit underwriters would allow in the current five-year SPLOST, Brown said. That would bring the available funds to $2.6 million.
However, the board previously assigned a share of the money to annual technology purchases, such as replacing computers, smartboards and digital projectors. Over the next four years, these are projected to cost $2.1 million, leaving only $500,000 for the facilities projects.
Brown provided the $2.5 million estimate for the first 12 projects, noting that it did not reflect “hard bid” costs.
Paying for it
Superintendent Charles Wilson said this gives the board four options: do nothing; spend just the $500,000, leaving most of even the first tier undone; plan early for another SPLOST; or transfer the $2.1 million in technology spending back to the general fund.
That would boost the total for facilities projects to more than $2.5 million.
Meanwhile, the added technology costs in the general fund, where the local funding source is property tax, would amount to about $500,000 annually.
That, by itself, would require less than one-third of a mill in tax revenue.
However, Brown also delivered a report on the operational funding of the schools showing that the local tax money spent per student varies widely from one campus to another. This report is related to the Bulloch County Schools’ move to become an Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE2, school district, giving each school more say in how it spends its allotted state and local money.
If the board funded all of the schools up to Bulloch County’s current average per-student funding, the shift in technology costs could then become the smaller part of a larger millage increase.
Wilson asked board members for an informal indication of support for the $500,000 first-year shift in technology costs from the capital projects fund back to the general fund. Some members expressed support, and Wilson said he would direct Brown to draft the budget on this basis.
However, to clarify the decision, Wilson plans to make a recommendation at the Feb. 12 meeting that the board appropriate $2.5 million from the capital projects budget for the priorities identified by the committee.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.