Supervisors okay school capital needs funding plan

The Capital Improvement Plan for Pulaski County Schools has grown to 58 projects totaling over $16.4 million. The prospects of taking care of all those needs anytime soon – to this point – haven’t been very good.

Soon, however, that may change.

Monday night the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors gave their approval to a joint resolution with the School Board on a funding plan to finance those projects over the next 10 years.

The plan involves using carryover funds, coupled with money from the cigarette tax added to savings from retired debt on past school construction.

“The board of supervisors putting together a strategy to solve the short- and long-term capital needs of the school system is quite frankly long overdue,” said County Administrator Jonathan Sweet.

Sweet told the supervisors that each year the school board presents a capital improvement plan on top of their operations budget plus a request for funds for school buses.

“What ends up occurring is a competition for those resources the county has to dedicate to education,” Sweet said. “We tend to prioritize operations and you can’t have operations without school buses, and so what’s left over is insufficient to fund the capital plan.”

Sweet said the funding plan presented Monday night changes that.

“This is very exciting because it solves so many different challenges that we’re going to have in the future,” he added.

Sweet said the funding plan, besides taking care of capital needs will also strengthen the working relationship between the supervisors and school board, remove the politics associated around funding prioritization of capital needs and will be taxpayer-minded.

The funding plan guarantees annual funding dedicated solely for capital needs. The plan will demonstrate the wherewithal to get stuff done and increase public confidence in the two boards and enhance the positive perception of the school system both within the county and beyond.

Supervisors Chairman Joe Guthrie said a lot of work and thought had gone into the funding plan.

“We’ve wondered many times how we can adequately fund the capital needs of our schools,” Guthrie said. “One of the most important things we can do in the community is to have great schools and to make Pulaski County a place where people live because of our schools.”

He said the plan provides an identifiable amount that the county and school board can plan on over the next 10 years.

The funding plan’s approach, as outlined in the joint resolution,  will continue the policy of allowing the school board to carry over any unused funds from its annual budget to be used only for capital improvement projects.

The resolution further adds funds generated by the cigarette tax to be assigned to school capital needs.

Finally, the resolution adds portions of future school debt retirement to capital needs as well.

Over the next 10 years, school debt will be retired from Snowville and Critzer renovation and refinancing (2020-21), Pulaski County High School renovation (2020-21), Pulaski Elementary (2022-23) and Riverlawn Elementary construction (2029-30) and Dublin Elementary expansion (2027-28).

The amount of the final year of debt service payments on these projects can be substantial – over $400,000 next year for Snowville, Critzer and PCHS. Another $558,000 two years later when Pulaski Elementary’s debt is retired. Over $525,000 in 2029-30 when Riverlawn’s debt is retired, and another $329,000 in 2027-28 when Dublin Elementary’s debt is retired.

All of those debt service amounts would go to school capital improvements – along with carryover funds and cigarette tax revenues.

The resolution also includes a line prohibiting the school board from seeking additional funding from the supervisors above what is identified in the joint resolution.

According to a conceptual model of the funding plan, a total of $15 million could possibly go towards school capital needs by 2030-31.

“We’ve talked about the age of the high school and what we may need to do to make sure we have a 21st century learning environment in that facility,” Sweet said. “By no means are we saying that we’re in a position to foresee how we’re going to tackle that, but the moral of the story if in 2030-31, we’ll have at least $2.25 million for school capital projects and effectively that could be converted into debt service. We’re servicing approximately $48 million right now at $3.2 million per year. The point is the school board will have some serious unencumbered funds to be able to solve future problems without having to raise taxes.”

Sweet said Pulaski County’s first thought doesn’t have to be, “well, let’s just raise taxes.”

“With proper planning and partnering we can potentially avoid tax increases or at least avoid large tax increases,” he said. “That’s what makes this plan so exciting.”

Following the presentation, the board unanimously approved the funding plan resolution.

The school board will take up the matter at its July 14th meeting.