SDPC board votes to put $13 million toward debt retirement

COUNTY — During a rescheduled SDPC board meeting held Wednesday, July 25, board members in a 3-2 vote passed chairman Alex Saitta’s motion to, as soon as legally and contractually possible, use all the building program balance above and beyond the district’s construction budget of $374.3 million for early retirement of bond principle.
Judy Edwards and Dr. Herb Cooper voted against the motion. Board trustee Jim Shelton was absent from the meeting.
As part of the administrative reports agenda, new SDPC superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew gave board trustees and the public an update on the building program investment earnings.
“As of the April 30, 2012, project fund account statement, the total amount of interest earned is $55,779,186.37. Of this amount, $42,744,188 has already been allocated to projects, leaving an unused balance of $13,034,998.37,” said Pew. “That balance can be used for future projects or it can be used to pay down the debt at the end of the building program.”
Saitta questioned what the administration planned to do with the $13 million.
“At this point there are only two things that can happen. One is additional authorization that the board would give additional projects — or early retirement of the principle,” said Pew. “(SDPC building program director Bob Folkman) has a list of projects, that over the course of the next few years, are going to be a priority for the district. And then we will have to make the decision as to how we go about funding those.”
Before hearing Folkman’s recommendations, Saitta made a motion advocating that the $13 million should be given back to the taxpayers in the form of paying down bond debt.
Edwards questioned Saitta’s motion.
“So you are saying that we are not going to consider, at all, these recommendations that Mr. Folkman says we are going to need to have to do to other buildings along the way?” asked Edwards. “That we are just going to say right now, before we know about all this, to put this (money) back?”
Saitta’s response was simple: “Basically what I’m saying is the building program is big enough. I’m making a motion to end the building program at $374.3 million dollars,” he said. “I think the building program should not get that windfall of $13 million. It’s big enough. We’ve spent enough money.”
The $13 million being debated cannot legally be touched until the completion of the building program, which is approximately two years into the future.
“Why don’t we just wait to see what we are going to need before we make this decision, since we can’t do it now anyway?” asked Edwards. “Unless the vote is reversed, that money cannot be used for anything.”
Cooper said he wanted to hear from the superintendent and Folkman about the building program — things that they have outlined.
“I think this is sort of a surprise to do this right now,” Cooper said. “I’d like to hear what they have to say. We can’t do anything about it for a while anyway. I certainly would like to get more input from the superintendent and Mr. Folkman as to how important these projects are. This money was allocated for the building program, and it’s going to be difficult to get the funds later after we’ve had this big building program. We ought to leave it there as far as I’m concerned, but could you comment on it Dr. Pew?”
Pew told board members that the SDPC administration was not requesting the board to take any action in regard to the $13 million investment earnings.
“I asked Mr. Folkman to come up with a list of things that, over the course of the next few years, are things the district needs to consider,” said Pew. “But we are not asking for this money, for these projects, at this time. We’ve got two years. I wanted the board to be informed of what we have out there.”
What’s out there is a list of roughly 12 new projects ranging anywhere from $7 to $9 million, according to the report Folkman presented to the board. The building program budget of $374 million cannot currently absorb any of these needs. Likewise, said Folkman, operational services general funds budget cannot currently fund any of these needs.
Some of the building program needs outlined by Folkman include new roofs for R.C. Edwards Middle and the east building of the B.J. Skelton building; Classroom technology in the elementary schools; Pick-up and drop-off loops at Forest Acres, Holly Springs and West End Elementary; revisions to the Pickens Bus Depot parking lot, where it is dangerous for the buses to operate; and relocations of Simpson’s Adult Education, Family Parenting and Special Education departments.
“I just think the building program is big enough, and what bothers me is that at the first scent of money there is a whole laundry list of items that come out in addition to it. This has been going on long enough,” said Saitta. “When Mendel Stewart came up with the building plan, the countywide plan was $158 million. I’ve seen it grow seven times since then and now they’re looking to grow it again. Enough is enough as far as I’m concerned.”