Recently you may have heard or read some information about the Bryan County School System’s upcoming ESPLOST and general obligation bonds vote on March 21 (early voting is going on now). And if you’ve attended one of the information sessions or Coffee and Conversation meetings with our superintendent, Dr. Paul Brooksher, then you’ve heard quite a bit about Bryan County’s ongoing growth and how this referendum will fund our school system’s needs.
With our growth comes crucial planning for not only our pressing needs, but the needs of our county’s students for the next 20 years. Here’s how your Bryan County Board of Education came to recommend this resolution to our voters.
First, we have to back up and share how your school board has been planning for years to maintain the current facilities, build needed schools and athletic facilities and manage the impact of the ongoing boom in our population.
Several years ago, we prioritized planning for growth and using our taxpayer funds wisely. A great way to do that? Don’t reinvent the wheel - but talk to experts who have successfully survived planning for a high growth school district. So we did. The entire board spent a Saturday more than four years ago, picking the brain of another Georgia school superintendent who had successfully led his district through building and districting new schools, managing their growth, and maximizing taxpayer dollars.
Out of that day and subsequent meetings and conversations among board members and our superintendent, we improved in how to more effectively share information, ask for community and parental input in an organized fashion and to build our schools more efficiently.
We hope you remember the community forums and information gathering on topics such as districting McAllister Elementary and whether to build one or two new high schools in South Bryan. We’ve requested more information from you - the parents of our students, taxpayers and school staff - from everything like what to name our new school to which academic calendar you prefer.
All the while we were juggling critical items like maintaining the vision and mission of our school system and pushing for the highest level of academic success for all of our students. Those last two items never come off the table.
We’ve also spent much of our time talking about the needs of students in both north and south Bryan County. It is an undeniable challenge that we have to duplicate services due to the land division in our county. But this is a situation we have no control over. So our focus is on prioritizing the needs of all our students. Period. We can’t speak for anyone else or any other entities, but we know our schools are focused on all of our students. However, we can’t stop the speeding train of growth in South Bryan. We have to put in classrooms for our students. Please know your board of education has already started talking and planning for the building needs of North Bryan in the current and next building cycle. Our focus truly is on the future - for our one Bryan.
Let me also recap some highlights of our past building program:
• Opened August 2015 - McAllister Elementary School and Bryan County Elementary School
• Opened October 2013 - Field house and weight room at Bryan County High/Middle School
• Opened August 2012 - Richmond Hill Middle School
• Opened January 2012 - New central office building
Thus, here we are, with your help and input. With growing over 2,300 students in the last 10 years and projections that have us growing an additional 4,000 students in the next decade, we have to begin building soon. Schools take years to plan and build. A new elementary school would be projected to open in 2020 and the new replacement high school would be projected to open in 2021. We hear rumblings of the desire for growth to slow in Bryan County. Everyone naturally wants to close the gate behind them. Your board of education cannot control or stop growth, only choose to work hand in hand with other local officials to set our schools and our county up for success. Our goal is always to be proactive and not reactive.
With opening the lines of communication for increased community dialogue, we appreciate all the feedback we have received. Many community members have shared great suggestions such as the goal to focus on using local subcontractors for our buildings. Let me stress that what is important to you, is also important to us. In all of our recent construction we have encouraged local participation. We will continue this expectation in our next building cycle. We, too, want to keep local dollars local. It puts that money back in our budget to use again!
In closing, we hope you feel confident that your Board of Education has been planning and studying our building needs for several years. We’ve met with financial experts and studied financing options. We feel the renewal of ESPLOST and the GO bond option make the most sense. And yes, there will be an increase in the millage rate (equating to about $5-$10 a month for most families). But facing exponential growth and having not raised the millage rate in 8 years, we can’t continue to function with more students, more schools, more teachers, more staff, more books, more computers, etc without an increase in the millage rate. If this referendum doesn’t pass we’ll either be facing a skyrocketing millage rate or an exodus out of our county because we haven’t supported our schools as needed. We hope you’ll join us; together we can embrace a future equipped to provide ongoing success for Bryan County’s children.