Leader Blues

Saturday, December 29, 2007

TOP STORY >>New mills to finance buildings in district

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

If Cabot’s 3.9 mills increase does not get voters’ approval March 11, the Cabot School District will have to look elsewhere for the $2.5 million it will owe on Cabot Junior High North once construction is completed.

Junior High North, lost to an electrical fire in August 2006, is being rebuilt on its former site at a total cost of $11.6 million, with Cabot’s share being around $640,000 for the new 1,200 capacity, 134,000 square-foot campus. The district received $10 million from its insurance company and $960,000 from the state through partnership funding for the rebuilding.

However, the district has taken more than $2 million from its operating fund to pay for the operating expenses of CJHN since the fire, Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said.

District officials estimate the total expenses for JHN to total at least $2.5 million once they are able to return the portable buildings, which currently make up the junior high campus, and move faculty and students into the new structure.

“If the millage fails, we’ll have to look at other financing options to take care of this facility,” Thurman said. “There is not enough money in the operating budget to cover additional second lien bonds at this time,” he said.

Cabot currently has a $6,015,000 second-lien bond issued, with annual payments of about $400,000 that must be repaid by 2032. Second lien bonds are repaid with surplus debt service millage revenue.

Of Cabot’s current budget of $59.1 million, $26,667,261 is devoted to the operating fund and $2,615,000 is earmarked for the debt service fund.

“It would be difficult to add to our debt payment right now since we are having to cut the budget just to return to our ending balance (of $2.69 million) from last July,” Thurman said. “We’ve got to be careful about the declining balance in our operating fund.”

The district’s ending operating fund balance has dropped the last eight years. From July 2006 to July 2007, Cabot saw a loss of $704,841 in its operating fund and the district is working to have no change for July 2008, according to Thurman.

If patrons approve the millage increase, the 3.9 new mills, making Cabot’s millage 39.9 mills, would generate $23 million for the district and allow for over $50 million in capital improvements across the district.

At $47 per student, Cabot brings in $433,622 per year from each of its 36 mills, or a total of $15,610,392.

The state will partner with the district on all approved projects at a wealth index rate of 60 percent to the state and 40 percent to the district. Every district’s wealth index is different and is based on the amount of money a district is able to generate based on its tax base.

“We stand to benefit greatly from this partnership program but must be able to generate our share of the funds,” Thurman said.

The 16 proposed projects for the next three to five years include a $13 million health, physical education and recreation complex at the high school attached to a new cafeteria/student center; $11.3 million for a new elementary school; $9.04 million to install heating, ventilation and air conditioning units in 10 kitchens in the district as well as HVAC systems at Southside Elementary, Junior High South and Central Elementary; $7.3 million to add 40 classrooms at the high school to accommodate future growth; $3.66 million for renovations to the high school auditorium; $3.6 million to renovate the high school S-building; $2.27 million to upgrade the science labs at Junior High South to accommodate growth in the next four years; $1.86 million for a new roof and HVAC system at Eastside Elementary School; $1.77 million for HVAC systems in the physical-education facilities at eight campuses; and $1.82 million to construct a new facility for the district’s charter school.

Also included in the projects are two items the district knows are not eligible for any state assistance – purchasing the land for a new elementary school, estimated to cost $200,000, and paving Stagecoach Road from Stagecoach Elementary School to Campground Road, at an estimated cost of $50,000.