Supervisors reaffirm intention to address middle school issues if bond issue fails

The Pulaski County Board of Supervisors made it official Monday night that, if a bond issue for a new consolidated middle school fails in November, the board will immediately begin to work toward finding a solution to middle school facility issues.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said Monday the county continues to receive hypothetical questions from citizens asking what happens if the $47 million bond referendum doesn’t pass on Nov. 7.

“The board has been committed to solving the facility needs of the middle schools,” Sweet stated.

Sweet read a proposed resolution that he said reaffirms the board’s commitment in the face of continuing constituent questions.

The resolution states that the supervisors – in the event the referendum does not pass by a majority of voters in the county – pledge their continued commitment to work in concert with the School Board to immediately begin efforts to effectively identify and pursue courses of action that would properly and affordably address the facility needs of the Pulaski County middle schools, and shall share willingly and equally in the planning and preparation costs associated with solving the middle school facility needs.

Ingles District Supervisor Ranny O’Dell made the motion to approve the resolution, with a second by Cloyd District Supervisor Joe Guthrie. The resolution passed unanimously, 5-0.

“This resolution shows clearly that we continue to be interested in finding a solution to the middle school problems, and that we will work closely with the school board to resolve those problems,” stated Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready.

McCready had said during the board’s August meeting that it had come to his attention some in the county believe that – should the middle school bond referendum on November’s ballot fail – it would prohibit the county from doing any work on the existing middle schools for five years. McCready said in August that is simply not the case.

Approval of the resolution came a few minutes before the board received the official explanation of the middle school bond referendum, created by County Attorney Tim Kirtner.

Kirtner told the board the explanation is required by the State Code and must be displayed at polling places on Election Day.

Kirtner said the explanation was required to be no more than 500 words in length, be neutral and be written in plain language.

The board instructed Sweet to have the explanation prepared for display at the polling places, and to have it published several times prior to the election in the county’s two newspapers, on the websites of each paper and the county’s website.

Monday’s meeting got off to a rocky start during the first public comment period when a citizen asked about money returned by the school board to the county at the end of the fiscal year.

Jean Anderson asked what the $512,413 returned to the county by the school board was for.

McCready responded it was leftover funds the school board had not spent. On July 1 that money was given back to the county.  “Carryover funds is what they’re usually called,” McCready said.

He explained to Anderson that the funds would be re-appropriated back to the school board to be used for capital improvement projects, according to an earlier agreement between the two boards.

Anderson asked if that money could have been used for maintenance needs in the two middle schools.

McCready responded, “Yes they could.”

“Why weren’t they,” Anderson asked.

“You’d have to ask the school board that,” replied McCready.

Guthrie directed the conversation to the school board members in the audience and School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers.

“That money wasn’t originally appropriated for capital,” responded Siers. “Now that it is capital money it can be spent on school repairs and equipment purchases.

“Previously that money was budgeted primarily for personnel as we had seven teaching positions last year that went unfilled. So that money is left over.  The agreement between the Board of Supervisors and School Board is that it be carried over for capital needs,” Siers continued.

McCready responded that what Anderson was asking was, “Could that money not have been used for maintenance purposes?”

“Not during the school year,” Dr. Siers responded. “It was appropriated for salaries … that was how it was budgeted. It was not available to be in the capital fund until the end of the year.”

McCready responded that money going to the school board is a lump sum appropriation. “We don’t appropriate for personnel or maintenance or anything,” he said.

Siers responded that the funds were originally requested to pay salaries. “We could not pay salaries on seven positions because we couldn’t find qualified teachers to fill them,” Siers said.

Anderson then asked what a $274,159 budget adjustment was for.

McCready explained that was school carryover funds from previous years. “That are typically used for capital needs,” he added.

Anderson again asked, “Could that money have been used for middle school maintenance?”

“Yes, I believe it could,” responded McCready.

Anderson asked again, “Why wasn’t it?”

Again, McCready directed her to the school board.

School Board Chairman Timmy Hurst told Anderson the number one priority for capital improvements in the schools right now is the heating and air conditioning at Critzer Elementary.  He said that project will cost a little over $1 million.

“We have to accumulate money to come up with that $1 million,” Hurst told Anderson.

“That seems like a lot of money that could have been used on the two middle schools instead of it coming out of taxpayers’ pockets,” Anderson shot back.

School Board Vice Chairman Mike Barbour responded that the school system had spent $900,000 in 2015 to put a roof on part of the high school that had not been replaced in over 40 years.

“In order for us to have money to complete major projects we cannot spend down to zero every year,” Barbour explained. “We have to put together money from several years in order to have enough for large projects. Everyone on the board of supervisors is aware of that fact, it has been discussed at many, many meetings.”

Guthrie ended the back-and-forth by suggesting the questions should be directed at the school board during one of their meetings.