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School board weighs E-SPLOST priorities
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The Effingham County Board of Education has set the date for a vote on its next round of the educational special purpose local option sales tax.

Board members have passed a resolution setting the date on the ESPLOST renewal for Nov. 3, and they also passed a bond resolution as part of the initiative. The bond will be for $15 million and will be paid back with proceeds from the SPLOST.

The current SPLOST, which will be extended for another five years if approved by voters, was approved in November 2010. It went into effect in 2012.

If approved, the school system will use the SPLOST to construct a new Rincon Elementary School and a science, technology, engineering and math addition to the Effingham College and Career Academy.

The ESPLOST will be capped at $60 million and the school system, in the resolution, plans to use the revenue to acquire land for operations, including future school sites, renovate, remodel and improve existing educational buildings and facilities, and purchase school buses, vehicles, textbooks, band equipment, athletic and physical education equipment, including fieldhouses and concession stands.

Other items to be obtained under the continued penny tax include computers and related technology, safety and related equipment, HVAC improvements, fine arts equipment and kitchen equipment.

“The one-penny sales tax goes to pay for a lot in the Effingham County School District,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse.
Board members also looked at the priorities for the next round of SPLOST, should voters approve it.

“We wanted to make sure we were in agreement on the ones we have on the sheets,” Shearouse said. “Some of these won’t be done right away. But with the bond package it allows you to do some sooner rather than later.”

SPLOST IV, the current penny sales tax, is set to expire in June 2017. The next SPLOST will have a cap of $60 million, meaning the tax is projected to bring $1 million per month over its existence.

“Hopefully, we get there,” said director of administrative services Slade Helmly.

The bond could bring in more, Helmly, depending on the bond rates. “It could be a little less,” he warned.

“We talked about selling the Rincon school, so there could be income from that,” Helmly added.

School system officials broke the expenses into two categories, including the projects — such as the new Rincon Elementary and the STEM addition at the college and career academy — that are commitments.

The STEM addition is expected to cost about $7 million, and the new Rincon Elementary has a projected price tag of $18 million.

Shearouse explained state money won’t be available for constructing a new Rincon Elementary. While more room for students is needed at Rincon, since the system overall doesn’t have an overcrowding problem, the state won’t provide help for the construction.

“We love state money for any project we have. But we will not earn any state money for the STEM academy or for Rincon,” he said. “That’s all local. With elementary classrooms, we have enough spare classrooms in the district. Once we get all those full, then we earn state money. They don’t just look at one school. They look at the whole inventory and decide whether or not you earn state money.”

The school system also will replace several of the air conditioning units at Effingham County High School and is anticipating getting a state grant to defray those costs. The school system expects to spend about $1 million on the work.

“We’ve got equipment that is original to the building,” Helmly said.

The project will be divided into two phases with the original units, some of which are classroom units and other larger ones used in more spacious areas, to be replaced next summer. Some classroom units have been replaced once already. Helmly explained that under the state grant, the system can ask to replace heating and air once every 10 years.

The rest of the HVAC will be replaced in 2020, and the first phase will include replacing the units that serve the cafeteria, commons, gym, locker rooms and labs, along with most of the classrooms.

School board members approved a capital outlay project application with the state. It is similar to what the school system did with improvements at South Effingham Elementary, Helmly said, and pushing forth the application allows the project to be included in the state bond package, which will go up for General Assembly approval in the next session.

The school system also spends about $1 million a year on buses, and Helmly pointed out the board continued to purchase buses even during the depth of the economic downturn. Other potential outlays for the SPLOST over a five-year period, if approved, are $4 million for maintenance and renovations, $4 million for technology and $4 million for textbooks. Another possibility is a new agricultural center for $2 million.

“There is a fairly firm commitment of expenditures of $59 million,” Helmly said.

Board member Troy Alford inquired about installing air conditioning on the buses. The school system may skip buying buses for a year — the $1 million annually buys eight buses a year — to put air conditioning on the existing buses. There are around 140 buses in the fleet, and putting air conditioning on each of them will cost approximately $1 million.

“The fleet is in reasonably good shape,” Helmly said. “Even during the downturn, we continued to buy buses.”

Improvements to the high school tracks have been projected at $300,000, but Helmly and Shearouse both believe that figure is high. Neither Effingham County nor South Effingham hosts track meets.

A new fieldhouse at Effingham County High School, comparable to the one opened at South Effingham, is expected to cost $2 million, and there are plans to put in safety vestibules at each school for around $750,000 total.

Shearouse said buying textbooks instead of computers is close to a wash, since the textbook companies own the software licenses for the digital versions of their hard copy volumes, and the cost is about the same.