Consensus sought for renovations

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, May 23, 2013

An hour before voting to invest $7.4 million in renovations to Charles Henderson Middle School, Dr. Judson Edwards sought consensus from the members of the school board.

“I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of the implications of this,” the board president said during a called work session early Thursday morning. “Once we spend this money on the middle schools, and the money to improve the baseball facility at the high school and add the softball facility, we’re committed to the facilities we have … I want to make sure we’re all good with our existing footprint.”

The middle school renovation, which is the final and most expensive project in a $15 million capital improvement program undertaken by the district two years ago, will involve construction of new buildings and a complete renovation of the middle school campus on Elm Street. The system already has used capital funds to add a pre-kindergarten wing and sixth-grade classrooms to Troy Elementary School and a new cafetorium and media center to Charles Henderson High School, among other projects.

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Edwards said while he at one time advocated the possibility of building a new high school for the system, he has since changed his mind and fully supports the capital plan as it has developed. “I think the location of the high school does nothing but benefit the kids by being that close to the university,” he said.

Roxie Kitchens, a former board president, said she was on the board at the time members explored the option of relocating the high school. “Because of the minimum requirements just to buy the land, it didn’t work out,” she said. “And then we’d have to bus the students? I like that we don’t have to bus our students.”

And, Superintendent Lee Hicks said, the estimated cost of construction for a new high school tops $70 million – a price that exceeds Troy’s budget.

“Building a new high school sounds good,” board member Jason Thomas said. “But the money? The busing? In the long run, it costs us more? …

“As for the building and the renovation to the middle school, I think it’s a great idea and I’m all for it. But, I think if we are going in the hole now (financially) I’d like to see a plan where we are not going in the hole while we’re building and moving into this new building.”

Thomas was referring to the district’s use of reserve funds, which are estimated to shrink to less than three months’ operating reserves by the end of next fiscal year.

“We have a budget problem in that the budget is not allocated to the needs of the system,” Edwards said. “In the past, the local funds have been allocated way too much to staffing and when we lost 350 students, we were going in the hole, no matter what happened.”

Edwards said efforts to reduce locally funded teaching units are critical to managing the budget. Those units have been reduced from more than 25 to fewer than 10 thanks to attrition and personnel management. “That’s what we had to do to get our budget moving in the right direction,” Edwards said. “But when you’re dealing with tenure and attrition you can’t move it as fast as you’d like to.”

What the board needs, Edwards said, is a plan that addresses what will happen if it is forced to vote to tap reserves to a level that falls below three months. “I want to know what the plan is to get us back to that three-month reserve level in a year or two years and how we’re going to make it happen.”

Edwards said the board also may consider refinancing its capital bonds before finalizing the financing, which could yield some benefits in debt repayment which begins in 2015.

The board members voted to award the construction bid to Whaley Construction at $7.455 million. Work on the project will begin this summer.

In other business, the board approved five personnel actions, including four transfers and one resignation.

Gina Hastings, business technology teacher, and Robin Snyder, personal finance teacher, will both transfer from Charles Henderson Middle School to Charles Henderson High School effective June 1. Hicks said the transfer is mandated by the state, which is changing the curriculum from a middle school curriculum to a high school one.

Forrest Lee is transferring from physical education teacher at CHMS to physical education teacher at Troy Elementary School effective June 1. The transfer is prompted in part by the move of sixth-graders to Troy Elementary next year.

Bari Rasbury is transferring as a resource teacher for seventh- and eight-grade from CHMS to CHHS effective June 1.

Wini Dunn, science teacher at CHHS, is resigning effective May 24.