Brunswick County 2016 School Bond: What you should know
When voters in Brunswick County head to the polls in a few weeks, they will be asked to register a vote on a $152 million school bond. With so many major decisions to be made at the polls, it is helpful to go in prepared and knowledgeable. $152 million is a lot of money for the County – so what does it mean and where would it go? What are voters being asked?
School Board members and Brunswick County Commissioners put forth the Bond Referendum after much debate. Understanding that the money requested isn’t small, they discussed holding on the plan until 2018. Ultimately, though, they decided to move forward. Due to current classroom sizes, they felt they couldn’t wait.
The results from major construction projects, such as a new elementary school and additional classrooms, won’t be realized immediately. There was concern that if work isn’t started now it might not be ready at the time when the schools desperately need it.
“Our school bond is critical for the future of Brunswick County. Strong schools are the foundation for economic stability and continued growth,” said School Board Chairman Olaf Thorsen. “This is the first time in almost 20 years citizens have been asked to support a school bond. The bond projects have been prioritized according to the most pressing needs. All nineteen schools will benefit. I am a life-long resident of Brunswick County and a product of our schools. It has been an honor to have served our schools as a board member for eighteen years.”
But again, what exactly does this all mean for Brunswick County taxpayers?
On the ballot:
Shall the order authorizing $152,000,000 of bonds plus interest to pay the costs of constructing, improving, and renovating school facilities, specifically including, among other things, the construction and renovation of classroom facilities and district-wide improvements for security, technology, and building infrastructure, the acquisition and installation of furnishings and equipment, and the acquisition of land or rights-in-land required therefor, and providing that additional taxes may be levied in an amount sufficient to pay the principal and interest on the bonds be approved?
Thorsen said that this is the first time in nearly 20 years that County residents have been asked to vote on a school bond. In fact, the last time the issue came before voters was in 1999. At that time, they approved a $83.5 million bond referendum. Today, $34.5 million is still due on that bond and it is scheduled to expire in 2024. Brunswick County states that all projects under the 1999 Bond were completed as promised.
Jessica Swencki, Executive Director of Quality Assurance and Community Engagement for Brunswick County Schools, told StarNews back in July that the 1999 bond helped the following projects:
- Construction of Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary School. The 70,000 square foot pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school, located on Pea Landing Road near U.S. 17, opened in August 2002. (approximately $10.3 million)
- Renovation of media centers, vocational facilities, classrooms, cafeterias and kitchens, science labs, physical education areas and restrooms at all three county high schools. (more than $39 million)
- Renovations and additions at Lincoln Elementary School, Southport Elementary School, Waccamaw Elementary School, Leland Middle School and Union Elementary School. The main focus of the elementary school renovations was to eliminate open classrooms. Leland Middle School renovations addressed deferred maintenance needs, such as heating and air-conditioning systems, and provided updated science classrooms. (about $19.3 million)
- Construction of Brunswick County Academy, renovations and additions at Bolivia Elementary School and improvements to Shallotte Middle School and South Brunswick Middle School. Four classrooms were added to Bolivia Elementary and improvements were made to the library, gymnasium and office areas. Upgrades to Shallotte and South Brunswick middle schools included additions of new administrative areas, new heating and air-conditioning systems and renovated science labs. Brunswick County Academy, an alternative school serving grades 6-12, was built on land donated by Brunswick Community College on its Bolivia campus. (nearly $15 million)
What’s on the Bond in 2016
That was then, this is now. The 2016 bond looks to cover a lot of ground with the $152 million.
Major projects include:
- Construction of the new Town Creek Middle School, to be placed on land already owned by the school system
- 6 additional classrooms at Lincoln Elementary School and Town Creek Elementary School
- 12 additional classrooms at West Brunswick High School and North Brunswick High School
- Construction of a K-2 building at Waccamaw School
- Construction of an Early College High School
The work will not happen all at once. It is set to be completed in phases, for the purpose of easing the potential tax burden among other reasons. The Brunswick County School Board has published projected completion dates for all of the projects under the new bond. First priority will be given to the new middle school and the new classrooms at the high schools.
Beyond these major construction projects, though, all nineteen schools are set to see improvements from the bond. There will be a focus on arts, technology, and athletics. Throughout the course of their discussions on the bond, School Board members remained focused on solving the problems of overcrowding and safety.
When it comes to athletic fields, for example, proposed renovations include bringing facilities into compliance with Title IX laws as well as addressing poor lighting on the fields.
“Brunswick County Schools currently maintains over 2 million square feet of building space and 750 acres of land,” said Swencki. “To do this and consider adding major building projects and improvement with our current $5 million annual capital budget simply isn’t feasible.”
The bond does require that funds be spent on construction and renovations only, and will not be spent on salary increases for staff or teachers.
Much of the necessary improvements and renovations come from overcrowding and growth projections for the schools. Town Creek Elementary School and Lincoln Elementary School are currently operating above capacity; Leland Middle School will be maxed out at close to 1,000 students in the 2018 school year if current growth continues. Likewise, North Brunswick High School is about 220 students away from what their facilities can accommodate.
How it will be paid
If the County is still paying off the 1999 loan, how will this new debt be paid? It is a sticky question.
There will be some debt payoff overlap that taxpayers will be asked to shoulder should the new bond be approved. The math shows that the Brunswick County property tax rate would rise an estimated $1.54 a week to support the bond. For example, this would cost the owner of a home valued at $200,000 an additional $80.20 annually.
The School Board is adamant, however, that this is a “worst case scenario” situation. The math changes depending on area growth.
Superintendent Les Tubb states that as the tax base in Brunswick County grows with new development and residents coming in, the amount asked from each individual could be less than the projected $80.20 number.
“Brunswick County is the 2nd fastest growing county in North Carolina and the 38th fastest growing county in the nation!” Tubb said. “Continued growth is likely to have a positive impact on the county’s economy and ability to maintain a low tax rate.”
Some critics have wondered about the Lottery funds the County receives and why those aren’t utilized for the proposed projects. Brunswick County is set to receive approximately $900,000 a year from the NC State Education Lottery Funds. But this money is currently being used to pay debt service on the new additions at North Brunswick High and Waccamaw K-8 School, construction that was not included or financed by the 1999 Bond.
What if it doesn’t pass
No one has a crystal ball, of course, but the County has tried to anticipate a future where the bond doesn’t pass. Given that the primary concern of the School Board has been to address overcrowding, they anticipate that redistricting will occur if the bond isn’t passed.
Swencki shares a scenario where children are moved down Highway 17, increasing the local area transportation costs.
But local government officials are hopeful that this bond will pass and it won’t be necessary. They are optimistic about the future.
“We have to maintain environments that are safe and conducive to learning,” Swencki said. “It is exciting to think what the future could hold for the County.”
Ultimately, when all is said and done the decision rests with voters and taxpayers in Brunswick County and the future they want. Their voice will be heard on November 8.
For more information on the Brunswick County School Bond, please visit brunswick2.schoolwires.net.