After two community forums and a survey last month to get input on a new high school for South Bryan County, Bryan County Schools is conducting an additional survey to gauge support for one or two new high schools.
The new survey, available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PSDVXHM, will be open through Nov. 14. It asks participants whether they are a student, parent, teacher or community stakeholder, then asks respondents if they support one or two new high schools based on seven criteria.
Those criteria include construction and operating costs, the need for separate attendance areas with two high schools, fine arts opportunities and athletic opportunities. A choice of “neutral” also is available for each option.
The third question asks for an overall opinion of one or two new high schools (or a vote of neutral) when considering all factors combined.
“The Bryan County Board of Education is very interested in knowing how the students, staff, parents and community feel regarding the topic of one new high school or two new high schools in South Bryan County,” Superintendent Paul Brooksher said in an email.
Fewer than 100 people attended the community forums on Oct. 24 and 25 at Richmond Hill High School and Richmond Hill Middle School.
Brooksher said at the time that the process is important because “while it may not impact our children, it will impact our children’s children,” adding that a new school has to have a lifespan of at least 40 years.
The school board knows that the Richmond Hill area needs at least one new high school in the immediate future, and at some point will need two. Officials are seeking this input from residents before moving forward. The questions they are asking pertain specifically to how people view one new large high school versus two medium-sized schools.
RHHS is currently at about 2,100 students, and growth projections put it at about 3,000 students in 10 years. The board must decide if it should build two new schools for roughly 1,500 students each or one large school for 3,000 students. It would cost taxpayers about $100 million for the former option and about $85 million for the latter. Operating costs for two new schools compared to one would be up to $2 million more annually.
Brooksher said neither option would detract from amenities or offerings, noting that two new schools would still have a fine arts auditorium at each and new athletic facilities. The timeline for any new project start to finish is 36 to 48 months.
“The conversation needs to occur that South Bryan will eventually need two high schools,” Brooksher said at the first forum. “It’s just a matter of when.”
Almost 700 people responded to an online survey the district offered last month that asked what issues people most wanted to know about as the process moves forward. Brooksher said the most popular issue — cited by 57 percent of respondents — was about districting.
“With two high schools, we would definitely need to draw new attendance lines,” he said. “That would depend on things like location and student population density. We would not use demographics.”
Other top concerns from the survey included academics (51 percent), construction timeline (38 percent), growth projections (37 percent) and athletics (23 percent).
There was also a general consensus from attendees at the first forum that the district should increase the millage rate to pay for new projects. Brooksher also noted that South Bryan County will need an additional elementary school and middle school in the near future and that schools in North Bryan County are in need of upgrades.
The current school millage is 15.537, which has not increased in several years. Brooksher said one mill raises about $1.2 million in revenue per year. The district also has a 1 percent E-SPLOST that raises about $5 million annually. It expires in March 2018 and the school board is expected to vote soon on placing a renewal before voters next year. The board can also ask voters to approve general obligation bonds to pay for expansion.