LAURINBURG — A firm hired to help analyze the costs of a proposed school consolidation has projected the plan will cost the school system about $96,000 more a year than Scotland County officials originally estimated.
Jay Toland, the school district’s chief finance officer, gave school board members an update Monday on the findings made by First Tryon ahead of today’s joint meeting on school consolidation with school officials and the Scotland County Board of Commissioners. The meeting is planned for 6 p.m. at the A.B. Gibson Education Center. It will include a financial analysis presented by First Tryon and a discussion between the boards on what will be best for the district.
First Tryon, the independent financial advisors, found that the two-phase consolidation — which would mean closing some schools and building a new one — would save the district about $2.7 million. Scotland 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.
One of the biggest expenses was staff, which was estimated by Scotland County to be $2,074,00, but First Tryon estimated a bit higher at $2,124,918.
“They were higher by about $50,918,” Toland said. “When we did the projections a year and a half ago, we did it off averages of the different positions we selected.”
According to Toland, First Tryon looked at “every single position” and the actual salaries.
“When they looked at the actual salaries it came out to be a little bit higher,” he said. “When you’re talking about $2 million, $50,000 isn’t far off.”
First Tryon did project a bigger savings when it came to the cost of the custodial staff. School officials estimated the savings at $115,064 but First Tryon said the figure was closer to $117,997, a difference of about $2,933.
Toland said First Tryon looked at the reduction of square footage and that half the custodial staff would come from the less expensive Service Solutions and the other half would come from the schools.
“We just looked at square footage, how much is it going to cost per square foot, what’s the square footage we’ll be reducing by, what’s the square footage we have to add back in,” Toland said. “First Tryon looked at the actual custodial staff … they looked at a blended model, because some of our custodial staff are outsourced through Service Solutions and some are still our employees.”
The biggest point of contention was the savings for school transportation, Toland said.
“We said $122,625 and First Tryon said $0 — with an asterisk,” he said. “The reason why they said zero was they believe that we can save this money through GPS and redoing some routes and looking at corner stops and things like that.”
He added that First Tryon said the school system could realize those savings without consolidation so the expense could not be tied solely to the consolidation.
The estimate for supplies differed by about $27,667. The school system estimated the savings at around $220,608 a year while First Tryon came in at $192,941 in annual savings.
The savings estimates for utilities were the same for First Tryon and the school system — $300,287 — because Toland said both entities used previous actual costs. Both also had the same estimate of $38,500 for contracted services.
The school consolidation plan is based on a capacity study performed in 2014 that showed that Scotland County’s middle schools and several elementary schools were underpopulated.
The first phase was done last summer when Washington Park and Pate Gardner closed. Students from those schools were sent to Sycamore Lane, a former middle school. Sycamore Lane students were transferred to the two existing middle schools in the county. For the second phase, students at Covington Street Elementary School would go to Sycamore Lane Elementary. Early College students could move into Covington Street.
Sycamore Lane will be renovated to accommodate the extra students and staff. Those improvements are expected to come with a price tag of $6.7 million. Upgrades to Laurel Hill are estimated at $7 million and construction of a new school will cost about $28 million.
County commissioners have to sign off on the plan before any new construction can begin.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.