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$2 million in school repairs gain support
SoVaNow.com / July 09, 2014The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors is leaning towards spending $2 million on school improvements that officials say are immediately needed, but at cost of draining away funds that have been set aside as a down payment on a new countywide high school.
Supervisors who serve on the county’s Joint Education Committee, comprised of supervisors and school board members, met July 1 to discuss funding for the physical plant needs of the county schools. The meeting was in response to a request from Sandra Tanner, speaking on behalf of the school board at the committee’s joint meeting in June, who urged quick action to remedy the most pressing problems — by purchasing a new chiller for South Hill Elementary School, boilers for Bluestone High School and Park View Middle School, and bleachers for Park View and Bluestone middle schools.
During the joint meeting, she asked that monies for these repairs be approved quickly so work could be completed before the start of the upcoming school year.
In all, school representatives pressed for capital spending amounting to an estimated $2.7 million. Tanner presented two prioritized lists: one identifying construction needs of school buildings, and a second list entitled “Current Principal Request.” Supervisors who sit on the panel rejected several items on the latter list.
In addition to accepting the top priorities presented by Tanner, supervisors agreed to recommend other spending items to the full governing board. Supervisors had planned to take up the matter later this month, but are holding off until a joint meeting of the education committee can be scheduled.
These smaller requests include HVAC units, windows for La Crosse, Clarksville and Chase City elementary schools, kitchen drains at Chase City and La Crosse elementary schools and security cameras in the hallways of elementary schools.
Supervisors jettisoned a request to build new walkways leading out to elementary school gymnasiums, which would cost $119,500. Supervisors David Brankley and Claudia Lundy, joint committee co-chair, said this need should have been anticipated under the original construction contract for the three new gyms.
When the issue of walkways came up at the joint meeting in June, school superintendent James Thornton told the supervisors that walkways are needed to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
Also jettisoned from the list was the request to spend $350,000 to pave lots at Chase City, La Crosse, South Hill elementary schools and Park View High School. Lundy questioned the need for so many parking lots.
County Administrator Wayne Carter said the school facilities fund had about $2.96 million available to make these repairs and upgrades, but taking the money would mean little left over to make a down payment for a new school.
Three years ago, supervisors agreed to raise the real estate tax rate by 2 cents, and set aside the revenue for new school construction. However, the supervisors later changed their policy for the fund’s use to allow for spending on major repairs.
In response to questioning from David Brankley, Carter explained the rationale for the 2 cent tax increase, enacted before Brankley joined the board. Brankley had wondered if there was anything more supervisors could do to encourage the school board to be more farsighted when it came to spending money.
Carter said to build a new high school — which was the original request — without borrowing, Mecklenburg County would need $75 million. That translates to a 16 to 18 cent tax increase, he said. To build a combined high school/middle school complex, which Carter estimated would cost $125 million, the county would need to raise taxes by 24 to 28 cents — a 60 percent-70 percent increase over the current tax rate of 40 cents.
“If we build a new high school only [$75 million] with a 30 percent down payment, the county’s debt service on the loan is about $3 million per year,” said Carter. Since the county has already dedicated $2 million in annual revenue for the facility, it would only need an additional $1 million to handle the annual debt service — after making the hefty down payment. Carter said it would take about a 3 cent tax increase to make up the needed $1 million annually.
Brankley agreed that the public would be more willing to accept a 3 cent increase compared to a 16 or 18 cent increase. He concluded that school trustees needed to “tighten their belts” and do a better job of budgeting their monies and prioritizing their needs.
By diverting $2 million of the $2.96 million fund reserve for spending on repairs, however, supervisors moved that much further away from accumulating the roughly $30 million that would be needed for a new high school.
Superintendent Glanzy Spain said the question that needs to be asked is “what do they [the School Board] need to keep things going,” as supervisors work toward amassing a 30 percent down payment.
Supervisors also agreed that ceiling tile replacements, and hallway painting in the elementary schools should be part of the regular maintenance done by the schools and come from their existing budget.
Supervisor said they were baffled by the request for fire alarms in the elementary schools. They wondered how the children could be allowed in the buildings if there were no fire alarms.
Before agreeing to spend money on kitchen upgrades and master clocks — almost $494,000 — supervisors wanted a better explanation of how the money would be spent.
They further agreed to withhold approval on spending monies on the $174,000 from the “Current Principal Request.” Lundy called it a wish list and Brankley said two of the items, the band truck at $25,000 and the baseball backstop at $5,000 should be paid from monies raised by the band boosters or the athletic boosters.
Before making a presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Lundy asked Carter to schedule a special called meeting of the joint education committee to share their recommendations with the trustees. She encouraged Carter to set the meeting for the week prior to the Board meeting so that by the time supervisors met, they could move forward on amending the county budget to appropriate these additional expenditures.
Carter said he contacted joint committee co-chair Sandra Tanner on July 2 and was told that trustees could not meet on such short notice, but they would discuss the supervisors’ recommendations at the September meeting of the Joint Committee.
Items on the school building improvements list:
Walkways to the gyms at La Crosse, Clarksville and Chase City Elementary schools ($119,500), paving of parking lots at Chase, La Crosse and South Hill Elementary schools and Park View High School ($350,000), HVAC BARD units ($768,000), new windows for La Crosse, Clarksville and Chase City elementary schools ($600,000), kitchen drains and upgrades for the elementary schools kitchens ($430,809), master clocks for three elementary schools ($63,000), painting and new ceiling tiles for Chase City, La Crosse and Clarksville Elementary schools to match the older editions to the new ones ($129,000), security cameras in the school hallways ($44,900) and fire alarms at Chase City, La Crosse and Clarksville Elementary schools ($30,000).
Items on the “Current Principal Request” list ($174,000), from individual schools:
A new multi-activity play center for the Chase City and Clarksville Elementary School playgrounds ($30,000), paving the playground at Chase City Elementary School ($7,000), a band truck for Park View High School ($25,000), 77 science tables and table for 1st and 2nd grade students at La Crosse ($25,000), tables and chairs for South Hill Elementary School ($10,000), a front loader tractor with mower for the middle and high schools ($72,000) and a baseball backstop for Bluestone Middle School ($5,000).
CommentsMaybe instead of taking an administrators "retreat" to Great Wolf Lodge and wastefully spending $8,000.00+ that money could have been spent on some of these requests. When will this board step up?
- By Really?????? on 07 / 09 / 14
CommentsThese "retreats" that nearly all school boards take are illegal because they are meetings of a public body. The board members are meeting away from the public eye and formulating policy instead of doing it in open session as required by law. When the school board's actions seem to come out of left field, it is because decisions have already been made behind closed doors or at private, illegal, retreats.
- By Bill Bailey on 07 / 28 / 14
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