The Long County Board of Education on Monday took the first step in the process of building a new school that would house grades 3-8.
In a unanimous vote, the board approved a resolution to let voters decide in November whether the county should raise $6.1 million through taxes to go toward the construction project. Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters said that the plan includes building the new school, purchasing land for it and constructing a bus barn and maintenance building. With the BoE’s approval, the resolution goes to the Long County Board of Elections for approval, and then the state must sign off. If both entities greenlight it, the question would go before the voters Nov. 4.
Waters said that if the citizens do approve raising the money via taxes, the state would give the county an additional $25.7 million to pay for the project. Because Long County is deemed a “low-wealth” area, it qualifies for these additional funds. He said that Long County is only the fourth county in the state to qualify for this program, along with Jenkins, Wilcox and Treutlen counties.
Due to Long’s continuous growth, if a new school is not built, Waters said, the system will run out of classrooms in two to three years. Currently, there are 3,159 students enrolled in the system and, according to projections from the Five Year Facility Research Plan, that figure will increase to 4,036 — a 28 percent increase — by 2018.
BoE Chairwoman Janet Watford said this is the first time since she has been involved in education that a program like this has been offered to schools. But with the uncertainty of the state’s finances, she pointed out there’s no guarantee the program will continue.
“The state could phase this out at any time, so we need to get this option out there and let the citizens decide whether we can afford it,” Watford said.
Waters said that to raise the funds, the millage rate would have to increase by 1.6 mills.
The board also unanimously approved a second resolution to approve a contract to buy land for the proposed school. Waters said that the approval was needed so that Long County could be eligible for the aforementioned state-funding program. He said that no land will be purchased unless the state first approves the site, voters pass the November referendum and the Legislature approves funding for state-facilities projects.
Waters said that a plot of land on Highway 84 across from Long State Prison is being considered for the new school. The 75-acre tract runs from Highway 84 to Elim Church Road. Board member Dennis DeLoach said that if the project goes through, access to the school should be available from both roads.
After the two votes, Waters addressed phasing out Walker Elementary and Long Middle schools. He said the schools must be phased out to qualify for the additional state funds. The new school would give the system more classrooms than Walker and Long Middle and, even though the schools won’t be in use, the county still would own the land and buildings.
Waters also gave board members information on all of the district’s July 31 open houses. Smiley Elementary School’s is from 2-4 p.m.; Walker Elementary School, including pre-K, and Long County Middle School’s open houses are from 3-5 p.m.; and Long County High School’s is from 5-6 p.m. for freshman, 6-8 p.m. for 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders, and 2-4 p.m. for the school’s one pre-K class.
Waters also told the BoE members that each of them had completed their nine hours of mandatory training to serve on the board.