New list of proposed Bibb school improvements almost ready

The Bibb County school district is preparing its plan for the next five years of capital improvement projects.

But the decision on whether to fund those projects with sales tax proceeds will be up to Bibb County voters.

This December, the current Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax -- or ESPLOST -- will end, and before a school district can receive sales tax funds, it must have a list of capital improvements it plans to work on.

Right now, Bibb school board members are putting the final touches on a “wish list” of projects they would like funded with another round of sales tax collections from 2016-2021.

With an ESPLOST, one penny of sales tax on the dollar is set aside for education-related improvement projects. In Bibb County, the overall sales tax is 7 cents on the dollar.

If a proposal is passed, “You will not see a change in the tax rate,” said Jason Daniel, director of capital projects.

A capital improvement, Daniel said, is something that lasts about 10 years and costs more than $50,000. E-SPLOST money cannot be used for things such as employee salaries.

The 2010-2015 ESPLOST, passed by voters in November 2009, is set to expire at the end of the year and is expected to raise a total of about $159 million. According to a board presentation from Ron Collier, the system’s chief financial officer, $129 million of that had been raised as of the end of January. Several improvements have been completed, and some are still in progress.

Those improvements include the construction of three new elementary schools (Heard, Veterans and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary), upgrades to high school athletic facilities, a new gym, safety and security enhancements, technology upgrades, new school buses, a new maintenance/custodial facility, and renovations at a handful of other schools.

As far as passing a new E-SPLOST, voters’ perceptions could be a challenge for the school board.

An audit of the school system released in February 2014 questioned millions of dollars in technology upgrades under former Superintendent Romain Dallemand. Almost $20 million worth came from sales tax revenue.

“It will be a hurdle that we have to jump,” Daniel said, adding that he hopes that actions of the past two years have shown diligent stewardship of those funds.

“I’m at every board meeting getting approval for something,” he said. “And it’s all school improvement related.”

The new wish list of projects was presented to board members last month.

The desired projects include: upgrading both Northeast schools (high and middle) by providing a common campus arrangement similar to Howard and Rutland; classroom additions at existing elementary schools to accommodate student population; building an auditorium at Rutland and Westside High School; renovations such as new floor coverings, paint, ceilings and roof replacement at older locations; bus maintenance and replacement; and continued upgrades to district technology.

School board member Lester Miller suggested that adding wish-list items for Bibb’s two charter schools -- the Academy for Classic Education and Macon Charter Academy -- would help sway voters to vote for the proposal, since charter schools are also publicly funded.

“I think it would make a good statement for someone to reach out to those schools for potential projects,” he said.

The district is also reaching out to the community for input on the current list by way of an online survey and will also be hosting two community forums this month -- 6 p.m. May 19 at Southwest High School and 6 p.m. May 20 at Howard High School.

Once the district has a finalized list, it needs to be approved by the board and then will be put to a voter referendum.

Given the cuts to education by lawmakers in recent years, Daniel said E-SPLOSTS are essential for school districts’ continued growth. “You’ve got to have it,” he said. “The general fund can’t carry it.”

Daniel said he hopes Bibb voters will bear in mind all the positive things the district did with the last round of sales tax collections, adding, “We’re under new management, as they say.”