Board Business Briefs: Board Approves School Expansion, Hears Budget Update
Creekview HS expansion rendering
The Cherokee County School Board at its Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023 meeting approved plans to expand a school and heard important budget updates.
The school board approved the Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax)-funded construction of additional classrooms at Creekview High School and Creekland Middle School, as well as a second gym for the high school.
The $50.5 million project was awarded to McKnight Construction Company and includes 20 additional classrooms for Creekland MS and 16 additional classrooms and a second gym for Creekview HS. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall with the expansion to be completed and open in August 2025.
“I’m excited for the community out there,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said of the project, noting it will prepare the area for anticipated residential growth. “It’s nice to have additional classroom space and an additional gymnasium.”
As part of the monthly update on capital outlay projects, the school board also received new photos and details of work underway to build the replacement campuses for Cherokee High School and Free Home Elementary School.
For the Cherokee HS project, pier foundation and footing concrete placement is underway, as is mechanical, electrical and plumbing work and curb and gutter installation. For the Free Home ES project, block wall construction is ongoing, structural steel installation is underway and parking lot curbs and asphalt base installation is complete.
The next construction project to be planned will be an expansion of the shared campus for Woodstock Middle and High Schools to add more classrooms.
During the work session, the school board heard critical information about several issues likely to cause significant impacts to next school year’s budget. These include the end of $17.6 million in federal pandemic funding; a potential shortfall of at least $14 million due to an anticipated expansion of the senior tax exemption for local property taxes if approved by voters in May; and continued increases in employer costs for State Health Benefit Plan healthcare benefits.
While the end of the pandemic funding was anticipated, the senior tax exemption expansion is a new issue that will impact budget planning for next school year. While initial conversations with the state legislature indicated that a voter referendum to expand the tax break wouldn’t be on the ballot until the fall, it now may be fast-tracked for May.
Currently, seniors 62 and older in Cherokee County can receive an exemption on paying school property taxes for the assessed value of their home for up to $485,500, meaning they only pay school property taxes on the assessed value in excess of that cap. The cap rises each year in accordance with the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. After hearing from seniors with more expensive homes, the state legislature plans to put the issue to voters, as only voters can change the cap.
The school board is expected to vote next month on a statement of support, but it may include several suggested requirements to limit the expansion’s negative impacts on schools and the rest of taxpayers. Draft language by CCSD staff that was shared with the school board reads: “Support local legislation to call for a referendum to modify the school district senior property tax exemption to assist senior property owners, while mitigating the loss of resources for schools. Options could include removal of the cap, inclusion of residency requirements and/or verification that no school-age children reside at the property.”
The anticipated $14 million immediate revenue loss the expansion would cause will be challenging to absorb, especially coupled with the loss in federal pandemic funding and rising employer costs for employee healthcare benefits. The most likely negative impact will be increasing class sizes for next school year by hiring fewer new teachers to fill gaps caused by end-of-year retirements.
“There is a commitment to lower the tax burden,” Ms. Cromer said, “but I want to keep any cuts we have to do as far away from the classroom as possible.”
These issues will be worsened should the state in any way reduce its funding for schools, such as through austerity budget cuts or expansion of taxpayer funded private school vouchers. A bill to expand the latter likely will be pushed during the upcoming legislative session.
The school board also:
• Thanked CCSD school bus drivers in honor of National School Bus Safety Week, and thanked Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for sponsoring the costs of CCSD’s annual bus driver appreciation breakfast;
• Thanked CCSD Pre-K teachers and staff in honor of Georgia Pre-K Week;
• Thanked organizers and volunteers for presenting a successful CCSD Special Olympics Awareness Games event;
• Recognized CCSD high school seniors named 2024 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists. Learn more here;
• Recognized Hasty ES Fine Arts Academy teacher Dr. Lisa Spence as the Georgia Elementary Art Educator of the Year. Learn more here;
• Recognized Free Home ES and PE teacher Coach Keith Furstenberg for earning the Georgia Award of Excellence in Physical Education. Learn more here;
• Recognized Etowah HS senior Cristina Garcia for being named to the State School Superintendent's Student Advisory Council. Learn more here;
• Recognized Sequoyah HS students Valor Lekas, Noah Popp and Ava Grace Roberts for being named to the All-State Theatre Program. Learn more here;
• Recognized CCSD Special Education Executive Director Charlette Green as the 2023 Phil Pickens Administrator Award winner. Learn more here;
• Recognized Carmel ES for being named a 2023 Georgia Title I Distinguished School. Learn more here;
• Recognized Mountain Road ES for being named a 2023 State Literacy Leader. Learn more here;
• Recognized Indian Knoll ES for being named a Microsoft Showcase School. Learn more here;
• Recognized 40 CCSD teachers, staff and school and district leaders for being named 2023-24 Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts. Learn more here;
• Recognized CCSD’s School Nutrition program for winning the Golden Radish Award. Learn more here;
• Approved a proclamation in honor of Retired Educators Day;
• Approved the renewal of Partnership Agreements with Cherokee Chorale, Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta Inc. and North Central Georgia Learning Resources System;
• Approved monthly financial reports;
• Approved disposing of surplus district and school equipment at public auction on Nov. 11;
• Approved out of state staff travel;
• Approved out of state and overnight student field trips;
• Approved a sanitary sewer agreement for a property owner adjoining the Woodstock ES campus; and,
• Approved the monthly personnel report.