Board approves $5.5M bond issue

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, October 11, 2011

After nearly an hour and a half of input from community members, board members and the superintendent, the Andalusia Board of Education voted 3-1 to move forward on a $5.5 million bond issue that is contingent upon a commitment of the city’s 2.5 mills per year of property taxes for the duration.

On Supe-rintendent Ted Watson’s recommendation, board member Amy Dugger made the motion, which was seconded by David McCalman. Board president Bill King voted in favor of the issue, Joe Nix voted against it. Board member David Bryant was not present.

Some 20 members of the community, including District 1 Councilman Will Sconiers, attended the board meeting last night to listen to the board’s decision to move forward with the bond issue to fund a capital plan that would close Andalusia Middle School and move sixth graders to the elementary school and seventh and eighth graders to the high school.

A new wing would be built at the high school and a new kindergarten and early childhood building would be built at the elementary school.

Watson said that portions of the new facilities would be safe stations that could house the entire population of students and faculty in each school during weather events.

Additionally, the system administrators are working to apply for FEMA grants that have been made available statewide that would cover 75 percent of costs associated with building these secure walls, which he estimated to be nearly $2 million.

Nix, who represents District 1 on the school board, said many constituents have contacted him about closing the middle school.

Nix, who wasn’t present at the July meeting when the board approved the five-year capital plan calling for the changes, asked Watson and fellow board members to help him answer his constituents’ questions.

“At the (public input) meeting Thursday night, the question was raised about whether it was a done deal or not,” Nix said. “If we go through with this bond issue, that will indicate that it is a done deal.”

“I disagree,” King said. “I have no problem having another meeting. There are a lot of issues we haven’t worked out.”

Watson said while the board has agreed to move forward with the capital plan, its not etched in stone.

Nix and his constituents wanted to know why there was urgency in approving the bond issue.

“We have a FEMA grant deadline. If we are going to apply for that money it is due Oct. 27,” Watson said.

Additionally, board members said that the city has pledged 2.5 mills of property taxes, which equates to nearly $7.5 million over the course of 30 years. He said the city funds could be “taken back” after the band room debt is paid off, if the board of education does not move forward.

“If we don’t vote, we have no guarantee of the 2.5 mills, which is $200,000 to $250,000 a year,” McCalman said.

At present, city leaders are in New York City to negotiate a bond issue to refinance its own debt, and the school system could save $50,000 to $60,000 in piggybacking with the city.

Nix said he understands that need for the school board to move forward with the capital plan.

“I thought it was a good idea; a lot of schools around the state have done this,” he said. “I didn’t know we were going to have to build two facilities. I don’t see the savings. My constituents don’t see the savings.”

Watson said it was important for students at the middle school level to have a state-of-the art facility just as students at the high school and elementary levels do.

“It’s not right that we have a facility K-5 that is state-of-the-art, then a bubble — the high school is much more conducive to learning.”

Sammy Glover, who spoke to the board, said the bubble Watson was speaking of has had a long-term effect on educating children, and if the board continues with its plan, it will no longer be educating children.

Glover also asked if any opinion had been sought from the administrators and teachers of the three facilities because everyone would be affected.

“All I’m hearing is deadline,” he said. “I’m asking you to consider the opinions of others before you make those decisions. I’ve talked with teachers who have no idea about this. This board is not even considering the people who it will affect. You may or may not be reelected when this is finished.”

Watson said he’s had conversations with a couple of administrators and teachers.

“They had concerns,” he said.

“If they had concerns, that concerns me,” Nix said.

Watson said they will follow the wishes of the board.

“The board only acts on the recommendations of the superintendent,” Glover said. “You need to talk to your teachers and get them on board.”

Watson said they are just talking nuts and bolts, and will seek teachers’ input.

“How in favor of this project would you have been a year and a half ago,” Nix asked.

“If I could have given my kids a better state-of-the-art facility, I would have,” Watson, who served as principal of AMS before being named superintendent, said.

Glover said he had a different opinion about the AMS building than most.

“We keep hearing you are going to include Woodson (in the name),” he said. “I don’t care if you call it Mickey Mouse. I just request that you talk to those it affects.”

Glover suggested that the board find out how much it would cost to upgrade the existing middle school facility and see if doing so is really cost prohibitive.

Nix said he was inclined to believe because of the interest in the situation that perhaps the board should slow down in its actions.

King said that nothing in the bond issue says the board has to go through with the project, but the money will be used for capital improvements for the system.

“The capital plan says the middle school will be put on the two campuses,” King said.