How Pay To Run The New Buildings?
By Alex Saitta
November 11, 2010
One of the final issues addressed in the debate to expand the building program, centered around how much more was it going to cost to run these new and renovated schools and how would that be paid for?
I've been asking that question awhile and it was answered when the board voted to expand the building program from $365 to $374 million.
My question focused on the extra cost it was going to be to run the bigger high schools, career center, the additional Chastain Road School and the additional middle school in Easley.
The board was told the extra middle school would cost $265,000 in personnel and $10,000 in extra costs to run the school.
Gettys Middle School is 136,100 sqf. The total square footage of the two renovated middle schools in Easley will be 247,485 sqf. That is, the district will be adding about 110,000 sqf. They put the additionoal cost to run that extra 110,000 sqf at only $10,000 a year or $850 a month.
I think that is a very low estimate. When I worked for the Easley Progress, we occupied 5,000 sqf. The electric bill was $800 a month. We had about 10 computers and lights were on during business hours and I shut off the heat and AC every night and weekend. I’m telling you, it was no fun working Saturday in the summer, with sweat rolling down my face.
That didn’t include the cost of insurance, repairs, cleaning, phone system, water, etc. to run that 5,000 sqf. building.
I doubt the district is going to run, maintain and repair an extra 110,000 sqf of middle schools in Easley for only $850 a month.
We were also told the extra cost for running the new Chastain Road school (staff and the building) was $550,000 a year. The district put the extra cost of running the bigger high schools and Career Center at $1.8 million. I can not tell you if those are accurate estimates or not.
Adding it all up, the extra and bigger buildings will add about $2.6 million to the annual budget.
Next year, the district is anticipating a $5 million deficit. That is, next year, the district will not have the money to fund what it is doing now.
Additionally, most of these new and bigger schools will come on line next year, so a good chunk of the $2.6 million in extra building costs will start weighing on the annual budget. Where is the money going to come from? Obviously, something elsewhere in the budget will have to be cut.
Common sense says, if you are in a hole, you first need to stop digging. That didn’t happen with this vote to expand the building program.
One final point that came up at the last meeting I want to address. One of the proponents of the expansion of the plan said, companies “primarily” look at education when deciding where to relocate. Expanding the program, she argued made sense for industrial recruitment.
That’s a false statement in my opinion. A company’s number 1 reason in the selection of a relocation site is how that location will affect its ability to earn a profit. That is, they want to choose a site that will either grow their revenue and/ or cut their costs.
This is why potential companies ask the local county to give them tax abatements, or they ask the county to build a sewer plant nearby and given them discounted rates, or they ask the county to build an exchange off the highway in front of their would-be plant site. Look at the county industrial park. Pickens County did all those things to attract new businesses.
Has anyone ever heard a company demand, “You build 2 new high schools, and we will relocate our business there!”
To a relocating company the school system matters, but it is not the primary concern of a relocating company.
Two things in this county have occurred that are hurting business. One, the state raised the business sales tax rate another 1 percent. Two, the school board raised property taxes 39 mills. Businesses got a higher tax rate on their business sales and a higher tax rate on their property.
The facilties plan has grown from $158 million when it was first discussed in 2005 to $374 million today. It is way beyond what is reasonable, what the district could afford, and what was ever hoped for.
The debt burden of the district has grown 16 times, and the tax rate for school debt has tripled from 19 to 58. That’s excessive too.
The school district is facing a $5 million deficit in its annual budget next year.
The district estimates that it will cost an extra $2.6 million to run these bigger high schools and the career center and the new Chastain Road School, and now this second middle school in Easley. The district doesn’t have additional revenue sources to pay for that additional cost.
I fear the district is putting itself in a situation where it’ll have to make even deeper cuts elsewhere in the budget to help pay for these additional and bigger school buildings. The budget challenge was already difficult. The decision to expand the building program again, will make it even more difficult.