FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — In order to update and add new classrooms, increase security, technology infrastructure and alleviate school overcrowding, the Forsyth County School System is asking voters to support a $195 million education bond on May 20.
School board leaders will begin their bond referendum drive in spring and a committee called “Citizens 4 Kids” aims to promote the passage of the 2014 bond for schools.
“We are growing at 1,700 new students a year,” said School Board Chairwoman Darla Light at a North Forsyth 400 Rotary Club meeting on March 4. “Even when the economy was so bad, we were still adding students every year. Most districts were losing students or staying the same.”
This is not the first time the county schools have taken out bonds. In 1992, 1995, 1999, 2005 and 2007, bonds were taken out and they are being paid back with voter-approved education special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) in 2001 and 2011.
“By 2019, we will have only one of those bonds left,” Light said.
Light said that state funding is available for facilities and the county is slated to get $52 million, but that doesn’t cover everything.
“When you build a school, a rule of thumb is we get half the money that we need,” Light said.
The last school the county built was Kelly Mill Elementary two years ago.
Brandywine Elementary is projected to open in 2016.
“We do have plans in this bond for more schools, because with the growth, it’s got to happen,” Light said.
Forsyth County is ranked 175 out of 185 for total per pupil expenditures and the lowest in metro Atlanta at $7,249. Fulton spends $9,128 per pupil, while Cobb spends $8,240, Gwinnett spends $8,099 and Hall spends $7,744.
With over 40,300 students in 35 schools, the county is the seventh largest school district in the state and had the highest graduation rate among 20 of the state’s largest districts.
In addition, the county had the highest SAT scores in the state, Light said.
If approved, funds would be available fall of 2014 and work would begin on projects at existing schools continuing until 2018.
The financing for the bond is structured to not increase the bond debt millage rate as long as SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) is extended by voters in 2017, school leaders say.
Some have argued that many schools are already overcrowded and more schools need to be built.
Forsyth County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, a strong proponent of education, said that state funding mechanisms only allow new schools to be built when there is school overcrowding.
“Had it not been for growth, we wouldn’t have one of the leading school systems in the state,” Mills said. “What they are asking us to support is for the well-being of children, but it’s for the economy and the vitality of our community.”
$195 million bond breakdown
Academics, labs and accountability – $1.4 million
Special education – $500,000
Life cycle – $31.29 million
School safety – $2 million
Technology – $17.3 million
Transportation – $9 million
Additions and modifications elementary – $4.97 million
Additions and modifications middle – $16.68 million
Additions and modifications high – $60 million
Middle school no. 10 – $31.5 million
High school no. 7 – $56.64 million
Land for new schools – $16.5 million
State funding for additions, modifications and new construction – $52.83 million