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State funds could pay for renovations at SEES
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South Effingham Elementary School will soon get a facelift — as long as the Effingham County School System receives funding it’s entitled to from the state.

The Effingham County Board of Education has sent a capital outlay application to the Georgia Department of Education, requesting $1.26 million in state funds to renovate SEES.

“We feel it’s time that we made some much-needed renovations there, and the state has dollars that we can acquire,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “We certainly want to take advantage of all the state dollars that we can.”

The total cost of the project is estimated around $2 million, Shearouse said. The remainder would be covered by revenue from the special purpose local option sales tax for education (E-SPLOST).

Opened in 1986, South Effingham Elementary is showing some wear and tear. Though the exact project list would not be finalized until the state funding is approved, school officials have discussed improvements such as installing new floor coverings, ceiling tiles and kitchen equipment, renovating the bathrooms and bus canopies, painting the walls and replacing major components of the heating and air conditioning system.

Under Georgia’s capital outlay formula, school districts accrue entitlement credit each year based on their enrollment growth and the age of their school buildings. In the application for state funds, local districts must demonstrate the need for a particular project and have it included in their five-year facilities plan.

“That entitlement is kind of set aside for us, and it accumulates until we make an application to get some of that money,” said Slade Helmly, executive director of administrative services for the Effingham County School System. “You can think of it as, they’re holding it until we apply for it.”

Despite the millions of dollars in funding cuts Georgia public schools have suffered in recent years, Effingham County leaders are optimistic their $1.26 million request will be granted.

“I would think it’s practically certain,” Helmly said.

That’s because the capital outlay fund is an entirely separate pool of money from the one that provides annual allocations to local districts. Whereas the state’s general education budget is determined each year by the Legislature based on Georgia’s Quality Basic Education funding formula, the capital outlay program is funded though the sale of bonds.

“I don’t recall ever seeing bond-funded projects be reduced,” Helmly said. “We complain and moan about the state a lot — and rightly so with QBE funding — but one of the best things local school systems have going for them with regard to state funding is the capital outlay program. It’s an excellent model for the nation on how we fund schools in Georgia.”

The funds to upgrade South Effingham Elementary will need to be approved in the 2014 General Assembly session as part of the governor’s bond package. The SEES renovations could begin prior to the school system receiving the state funds, in hopes of completing the work prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Another goal is to finish the project under the $2 million estimate.

“Hopefully it’ll come in at $1.7-1.8 million, and we’re getting about $1.3 in state money,” Helmly said. “Hey, if they’d give me three-quarters of the amount of money to do improvements on my house, I’d certainly do it.”