School board OKs $12.5M package for improvements

By Andrea Kelley
Courtesy The Journal

EASLEY — The Pickens County School Board approved one portion of a sweeping $69 million capital improvement plan at its most recent meeting last month.

The five-year plan includes upgrades for district technology, facilities and student activities.

Though the entire plan was presented, the board only debated approval of projects slated for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which total $12.5 million.

School district chief financial officer Matt Owens shared the long-range plan so everyone could keep “the timeline of needs” in mind, but also reminded board members what they were investing in.

“While the plan is in terms of things — some of which we don’t notice day to day until they are not working — the things in this plan represent an investment in our students, our staff and our community,” he said. “While the plan being presented represents a large investment, let’s not forget who and what these numbers represent.”


The plan

Each phase of the plan is broken into three sections — technology, student activities and facilities.

Student activities will receive the least attention for the 2023-24 year, with just more than $650,000 being spread across school furniture, updates for the activity bus fleet, school radios and athletic funding. A portion of those funds are devoted to STEM learning opportunities, Owens said.

Technology came next, with an emphasis on continued investment in the district’s physical technology network, like servers, as well as security systems like badge access systems and security cameras. More than $2.5 million will be dedicated to student and teacher devices and classroom presentation systems.

Two-thirds of the funds for 2023-24 are allotted for facilities improvements. Along with operations equipment and alarm system replacements, some of those funds will go toward playground and walking track maintenance.

The biggest chunk will pay for door and window replacements, floor coverings, updating classroom cabinets and counters and plumbing work.

Work is being scheduled for West End, East End and Six Mile elementary schools, Owens said, but not all locations will have all types of work done.


The funding

The 2023-24 projects will be funded completely with capital project bonds without tapping into the general fund, Owens said.

He plans to issue $12.5 million in bonds in May 2023, so funds are available by July 1, and said the bonds won’t require an increase in the debt service millage rate.

Trustee Amy Williams said a lot of people reached out to her about funding and asked Owens to clarify the difference between the operating budget and capital projects budget.

He said the general fund is funded by operating millage, and the capital improvement plan is funded by debt service millage.

“The two big differences there is, on the operating side, the 4 percent property — which is your personal residence — is not taxed for the operating side,” Owens explained. “On the debt service side, all property in the district is subject to that 54-mill levy.”

Williams said in other states there is no distinction, and districts must take money from their operations budget to fund projects.

“Before we had the CIP, that’s what the board was faced with,” Owens said. “There’s been tremendous improvement in the district’s financial position in the last eight years.”

The board unanimously approved the first stage of the plan for $12.5 million.