Newton County Board of Education members voted unanimously to begin a five-year facilities plan that would “phase-out” three local schools – essentially removing the three schools from the State Department of Education’s inventory.
“The NCSS has an approved five year facilities plan on file with the State Department of Education that cover’s the district’s facilities plans from July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2011,” according to the recommendation to the board by Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley.
“Since this plan was developed the district has seen a decrease in the rate of student enrollment growth and decreased in ad valorem tax collections, sales tax collections and state funding. Given these issues, the district solicited the assistance of the Facilities Section of the State Department of Education in the development of a new five-year facilities plan. Out of this preliminary work has come the outline of a plan that will address the district’s facilities needs and maximize state participation in the district’s building program.”
Newton High School, Palmer Stone Elementary and Ficquett Elementary will be the schools affected and the decision to do was made after much thought and research in the matter, according to board member Cathy Dobbs. The cost of replacing the schools is more cost-effective than bringing them up to the current school building specifications.
“In our economy and the way our tax digest is shrinking, we have to go for every penny we can get,” said Dobbs. “In no way do we want to disrupt the community of Newton High, Ficquett or Palmer Stone. We want to keep intact the integrity of those communities… Please know that as we plan to go forward were going to be very sensitive in keeping those educational communities intact. Hopefully the community will respect our decision.”
All three school facilities will no longer qualify for state renovation monies but will remain in use as the district sees fit. According to Whatley’s recommendation, the component of the building program generates a greater need for classroom space in the district, thus increasing state earnings and financial participation in the district’s building program.
This component of the district’s updated five year facilities plan will also infuse an estimated additional $24 million, in state participation, into the district’s building program; thus decreasing the local dollars needed to fund the program. In addition, this element of the building program addresses the district’s desire to accommodate facility needs in a timely manner from the standpoint of enrollment projections and today’s classroom needs.
“We have to utilize the formula that will get us the most bang for our buck out of the State Department of Education,” said Dobbs. “I cannot stress to you how we looked at this and we really want to do the most with the dollars we’re allotted for the students of our system and to bring all of our schools up to a very high standard physically and technologically.”