The recent financial windfall from lower-than-expected school construction bids has not escaped the attention of the Clarke County School Board. Based on the original $40.381M budget the School Board and the Board of Supervisors now control nearly $7.2M of surplus funding:
|Item||Expense||% of Total|
|Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment||$1,800,000||5.418%|
|Fire Flow Booster Pump||$250,000||0.753%|
|Water/Sewer tap fees||$224,000||0.674%|
|All Permitting fees (estimated)||$200,320||0.603%|
|Project Managers (GF)||$808,622||2.434%|
|All legal fees||$123,716||0.372%|
|Project Costs (est.)||$33,221,467.00|
|Unspent School Funds||$7,159,625.00||
What exactly will the School Board do with the extra $7.2M?
“The response to that will be when we obtain the various cost estimates for the various options discussed” School Board Chairman Robina Bouffault said in an email message. “The School Board also wants to try and lighten the tax burden for our citizens as much as possible during these hard economic times, so if we can use mostly the VPSA bond funds, and use only a portion of the Board of Supervisor funds while addressing our basic capacity needs as well, we will try to do that and avoid additional tax increases in the near term. We may not be able to do everything we would like, but are hopeful of doing most of it.”
The $7.2M surplus comes from two sources of funding; VPSA bond funds include $3.46M borrowed through the Virginia Public School Authority and financed by Clarke County taxpayers. VPSA bond funding may only be spent on school construction or renovation. The additional $3.67M in cash held by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors can be spent on any project authorized by the Board of Supervisors and is not necessarily mandated for the new school project.
According to Bouffault the $3.67M school cash fund was generated “over a number of years, as the Board of Supervisors annually put aside +/- $500K in cash for school construction as a matter of course.”
At last night’s meeting Bouffault said that the $3.46M in VPSA bond funds would cover the cost of increasing the new high school capacity to 1,000 students by adding eight additional classrooms. Based on an estimated construction cost of $150 per square foot, the 10,000 square foot capacity increase will cost approximately $1.5M. Bouffault said that she believed that the remaining $1.96M of VPSA funding would probably cover converting the existing Clarke County High School to a new elementary school (previously estimated at $4.5M.)
“The high school conversion would include re-doing the kitchen and cafeteria as well as installing smaller bathroom facilities appropriate for elementary students” Bouffault said.
CCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy offered a long list of additional projects for funding consideration including transitioning Boyce Elementary to a “neighborhood school”, abandoning the F&M Bank facility and consolidating administrative staff at Berryville Primary.
School Board Member Jennifer Welliver (Berryville) asked that a greenhouse be reconsidered for inclusion in the new high school design.
Whether any of the non-VPSA funding controlled by the Board of Supervisors will be spent on Clarke County education is an open question at the moment. The money could be used for needed school infrastructure and compensation budget shortfalls if the Board of Supervisors can be convinced to spend the money. Teacher salaries have been stagnant for several years while school kitchen facilities, roofs and buses have also been cited as funding challenges.
During Monday night’s discussion there appeared to be consensus that conversion of the existing high school to an elementary school will result in excess classroom capacity over current elementary student enrollment requirements. Several School Board members expressed a desire to use only perimeter classrooms with natural light for students while utilizing interior spaces for administrative and other functions in the planned refurbishment.
Bouffault said that Monday night’s budgetary discussion was simply a review of possible options. “We need to have clear cost estimates of any addition to the project, along with demographic research, and timeline estimates. We will also need to look at the current high school renovations and get cost info on that as well, together with the space study that Dr. Murphy will be organizing.”
“We still have quite a bit of research to do to reach any definitive conclusions and make the corresponding decisions” Bouffault said.