LAURINBURG — County leaders and school board members appear closer to reaching a decision about consolidation, its associated costs and the future of Scotland County’s schools after meeting together on Wednesday.
The primary question from members of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners was whether the money saved by closing more schools would be enough to help offset the cost of building a new school and adding on to two others.
School board members largely believe the system can, based on numbers given by David Cheatwood of First Tryon Securities who presented various financing options for a building project.
First Tryon found that the second phase of consolidation would save the district about $2.7 million. Scotland school officials had estimated the savings at about $2.8 million — a difference of about $96,441.50. The proposed consolidation is expected to cost about $41 million in total.
Financing options include:
— General obligation bonds that are low-interest but require a voter referendum, with an approximate payback over 20 years at $58 million;
— Limited obligation bonds, that would have a higher interest rate than GO bonds, but do not require a referendum, with an approximate payback over 20 years at $59.5 million;
— A USDA loan that could be paid back over a 40-year period and would bring a lower annual cost but an ultimate payback of $89 million and;
— An operating structure lease through which the building and additions would be financed through a developer and the school district would lease the buildings with an option to purchase after the fifth year of use.
Commissioner Whit Gibson asked if the savings will be used to retire the debt.
“When you look at the revenue’s coming from to pay off these bonds, about two-thirds of it is coming from the savings the school system says they are going to create,” Gibson said.
School board member Jamie Sutherland expressed concerns about the first 10 years of paying off the loan, echoing a question from board of commissioners Chair Carol McCall, who asked about the possibility of a 25-year payoff period, which would cost more in interest but would free up funds for other expenses of the school district. Cheatwood said the district could go back and calculate a payoff schedule over that period of time.
McCall asked Jeff Byrd, school board chair, if the district had given any thought yet to site selection for a new school.
Byrd said school officials have not yet searched for land to build a school, but believes the board as a whole is aware of concerns about the location.
“We know that the north side of town needs to be served as well but at the same time making sure that bus times decrease,” Byrd said. “We’re very conscious of being sure that everybody is served in this county.”
Commissioner John Alford suggested that something needs to be done to correct the issue of aging and underpopulated school facilities.
“We’re going to have to consolidate and if the facts say so…it is time for us to build modern schools based on the data,” Alford said. “We’ve spent millions of dollars on these old buildings.”
“We’re trying to find the best way to provide space for our children to go to school,” McCall said.
Commissioners, along with school board members agreed to look at numbers based on 25-year pay off plan as they move forward to consolidate and build.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.