Coweta BoE delays new middle school construction

The economic timing was just not right. The Coweta County Board of Education has decided to delay the construction on the county’s seventh middle to be located on Corinth Road. State and local financial uncertainties due to the long-running recession were among the primary reasons for holding off on the project.

School system spokesman Dean Jackson said school board had been planning the construction of the county’s seventh middle school with an opening expected in the fall of 2014. But economic realities necessitated another look at the issue, and resulted in the Oct. 19 vote to delay the project.

“Our issue is not with building the structure,” said Barker, who noted that local and state funding for construction of the school is in place. “Our issue is the additional operational costs of adding a new school at this time.”

There were a number of issues Barker cited in support of the decision to delay the construction. Among those were:

- Continuing financial uncertainties in the state. Coweta County has not received $85.7 million in expected state funding since 2003, due to austerity cuts from the state of Georgia. The most significant cuts to state funding have come in recent years, including the current fiscal year.

- Uncertainty over the impact of the charter school amendment on future state funding of local school systems.

- The school system has experienced continuing declines in the local tax digest. Local tax revenues declined $2.3 million in the current fiscal year. And the decline of 3.21 percent in local tax digest revenues followed declines of 4.87 percent in FY 2012 and 1.71 percent in FY 2011.

- Other losses for the school system’s operational budget in the previous nine months includes the loss of $4.2 million in state revenues coming to Coweta County due to a recalculation of the state equalization formula for local communities.

- The school system has also experienced a $1.8 million increase in employer costs for health insurance for classified employees since the adoption of the FY 2012 budget. Further increases in employer costs of classified-employee health insurance of $1.2 million per year are expected over the two upcoming fiscal years.

“I don’t believe we can handle the combination of these events and the opening of a new school,” said Barker. 

Barker said the school system will need more instructional space in the future to meet middle school needs, adding that the system will likely need to build a new middle school eventually.

Delaying construction and considering other shorter-range options, however, would be a more fiscally responsible choice at this time, which better maintains the system’s ability to meet students’ needs and preserve current educational services, he said.

Jackson reported that the costs associated with planning for the school can be used for the future project, and that there will be no loss of state construction funding associated with postponing the project at this time. Per the board’s vote, the contract with the project’s construction manager will be terminated, as will plans for extending utilities to the Corinth Road site, Jackson said.

So where will middle school students go for the time being? Barker recommended that the school system consider alternatives to meet increased middle school enrollment, including additions at Madras and Lee Middle Schools, and a possible expansion of the Central Educational Center’s 8th Grade Academy.  The Madras and Lee middle school campuses can accommodate classroom expansions.

Barker noted that those options will have the benefit of avoiding the additional costs of operating a new middle school, which are estimated to be at least $1.8 million. Barker added that postponing the construction of the new middle school will also avoid the need for a system-wide middle school redistricting next year.

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