MCSD Releases Sales Tax Report and Plan for GA School Projects

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A new report says the Muscogee County School District is keeping its promise to voters.

According to the district’s report to the school board, seven of nine completed CMSD sales tax-funded projects that Columbus voters approved five years ago were completed on budget.

Columbus voters renewed the 1% sales tax on the local special-purpose option for education in March 2015 for a five-year term or until $ 192,185,000 has been raised for 24 projects of fixed assets, highlighted by a new Spencer High School.

Despite a shortfall of $ 15,141,218 in expected collections, MCSD is on track to complete all of the projects announced with ESPLOST 2015 money except for a system-wide sports complex, Superintendent David Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer. This project has been postponed and is part of the ESPLOST 2020 projects.

Columbus voters renewed the ESPLOST in June 2020, so the referendum was approved each of the five times it appeared on the ballot: 1997, 2003, 2009, 2015, and 2020.

The current ESPLOST, which keeps the city’s total sales tax at 8%, is designed to pay for 22 projects totaling around $ 189 million. It will last for five years or until the full amount is collected.

In addition to the sports complex, which is to be built on Cusseta Road, projects include the consolidation of Dawson and St. Marys elementary schools into a new building to be constructed behind Dawson, as well as a new North Columbus public library on a site in announce.

Lewis attributes realistic budgeting, value engineering, and state fund repayments to the district’s ESPLOST financial performance.

Since its inception, the plan was “based on a well-defined vision, efficient and effective tendering processes, positive relationships with architects and general contractors, avoiding unnecessary program changes during the project and continuously monitoring projects as they progress, ”Lewis said. in an email. “This is also where the ESPLOST committee of the Education and Citizens Council plays a vital role in budget oversight and ensuring the integrity of the vision of projects. ”

Lewis stressed that he was proud of all the projects, but praised the “perseverance” it took to complete the Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts with funding from the 2003, 2009 and 2015 ESPLOST referendums and “ topological and geotechnical challenges of the site ”for the new Spencer.

Lewis’s only regret about the ESPLOST 2015 plans, he said, is that he could not complete the sports complex due to the shortfall.

This is why he called it “the top priority for ESPLOST 2020”.

“The eyes of the citizens of Columbus”

The ESPLOST citizens’ committee of the CMDD supervises the progress of projects by the administration. The retired director of government relations of the Columbus Regional Health System, Bennie Newroth, chaired the committee overseeing the 2015 projects following the death of retired President of Universal Card Services, Meridith Jarrell, in December 2018.

Newroth co-chaired with retired Columbus Bank and Trust chairman Sam Wellborn the campaign committee that helped win the 2015 referendum, so she felt obligated to help ensure spending integrity. .

“When you agree to chair a fundraising operation like we did in 2015 with ESPLOST, you are saying that you trust the system to do what it says,” Newroth told LE. “You encourage people to follow a trust, and I have to say the system hasn’t betrayed my trust, and I don’t think they have betrayed the trust of the citizens either.”

She also agreed to continue serving on the citizens’ committee overseeing ESPLOST 2020 projects, Newroth said, “so that I can make sure that whatever promises are made, those promises are kept.”

Newroth acknowledged that economic hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a shortage of sales tax money to get all 2020 projects completed as planned.

“It will probably be a more difficult road, and I think we have to temper our expectations,” she said. “We have to have a realistic approach to what can be accomplished, given the things over which we have no control. Next, we have to realize that all the things we want might not happen right away, or they might not happen in the order we planned. But the system has been a good steward of our money so far, so hopefully they will.

At its November 16 meeting, the Muscogee County School Board approved the committee’s recommended phases for implementing the 2020 projects. The recommendation was based on several factors, Lewis said, such as the scope of the project, the time required and the bail and state applications required.

“Phase two projects are generally large projects but not urgent and may not take as long to complete as phase one projects,” he said. “There are several projects designated as ongoing, such as updating technology, purchasing buses, security items, musical instruments, playgrounds, kitchen equipment, etc. ., which must be regularly updated or replaced over time. “

Newroth has generations of MCSD connections: she graduated from Spencer; her children are graduates from Jordan; her grandson attends Fort Middle School; her granddaughter attends Carver High School. She encouraged residents to share their concerns about the projects with committee members.

“That’s what we’re here for: to be the eyes of the citizens of Columbus to make sure the money is spent as it was promised,” she said.

ESPLOST projects of the CMSD 2015

Completed on budget or under budget

  • Spencer High School Replacement: initial budget of $ 56,000,000; final cost $ 53,268,196.
  • Fort Middle School Gymnasium Replacement: Initial budget of $ 2,900,000; An additional $ 798,247 from the State; new total available $ 3,698,247; final cost $ 3,597,513.
  • Virtual electronic library in North Columbus: initial budget of $ 400,000; final cost $ 400,000.
  • Northside High School Cafeteria Expansion: initial budget of $ 500,000; final cost $ 500,000.
  • Shaw High School Expansion and Renovation: Initial budget of $ 4,000,000; final cost $ 4,000,000.
  • Addition or renovation of a weight / wrestling room in high schools in Columbus, Jordan, Kendrick, Northside and Shaw: initial budget of $ 5,000,000; final cost $ 4,893,123.
  • Improvements to the Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts: initial budget of $ 6,000,000; final cost $ 5,897,956.

Completed over budget

  • Modernization of Kinnett Stadium: initial budget of $ 3,175,000; final cost $ 3,578,755.
  • Modernization of the cafeteria and auditorium at Arnold Magnet Academy, Clubview Elementary School, Eddy Middle School, and Columbus, Hardaway and Kendrick High Schools: initial budget of $ 1,000,000; final cost $ 1,391,382.

ESPLOST CMDD 2020 projects

Phase 1 (ongoing with selection of architects)

  • $ 25 million: construction of a new elementary school behind Dawson to merge Dawson and St. Marys.
  • $ 15 million: construction of a system-wide sports complex on Cusseta Road, including a stadium with an artificial field for football, soccer and lacrosse, as well as a tennis complex with five or six courts .
  • $ 3 Million: Improve Jordan Vocational High School College and Career Academy.
  • $ 3 million: Columbus Museum upgrade.
  • $ 2 million: Stephen T. Butler STEAM Center upgrade.
  • $ 1.5 million: Add four classrooms to Mathews Elementary School.
  • $ 1 million: Columbus High School exterior upgrade.
  • $ 500,000: Expand the music room at Veterans Memorial High School.

Phase 2 (no schedule defined)

  • $ 13 million: modernizing the Arnold Magnet Academy.
  • $ 4 million: add to Hardaway High School.
  • $ 4 Million: Add to Kendrick High School.
  • $ 3 million: construction of the new North Columbus public library.

In progress (at different stages)

  • $ 45.5 million: improve technology and technological infrastructure; build coding labs in elementary school.
  • $ 17.5 million: renovate unspecified facilities.
  • $ 16 million: replace obsolete buses, other vehicles and transportation equipment.
  • $ 15.5 million: improve sports facilities.
  • $ 5 million: modify unspecified facilities.
  • $ 3.5 million: improve campus safety and security.
  • $ 3 million: financing bond issue.
  • $ 3 million: replace obsolete furniture, fixtures, equipment and musical instruments.
  • $ 2 million: replace obsolete school nutrition equipment.
  • $ 1.5 million: modernize secondary science equipment and technology.
  • $ 1.5 million: improve playgrounds.

Mark Rice, editor-in-chief of Ledger-Enquirer, discusses education and other youth-related issues. He also writes reports on any exciting topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for over a quarter of a century. He welcomes your advice and questions on local news.


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