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Guest column: BOE update on growth, building
Guest columnist

By Amy Murphy.

As a Board of Education one of our goals is to share information with our community. We appreciate this opportunity to provide an update regarding our ongoing growth and funding. Of note, Bryan County is the fastest growing county in Georgia, and the 6th fastest growing county in the United States. Bryan County School System has worked hard to develop a 5 and 10-year capital projects plan, which helps guide our building and renovation projects. While we cannot control or stop growth, we continuously work hard to be proactive and plan for our students’ needs, now and into the future.

On Nov. 2, Bryan County voters will have an opportunity to vote for a continuation of ESPLOST. Our residents have historically supported this one penny sales tax since 1997. As a reminder, this is a consumption tax, not a property tax. If you’ve sat in line at Starbucks off Exit 90 or in line at Arby’s off Exit 143, you’ve seen the number of out of county and out of state residents that help fund our local schools. As an additional reminder, ESPLOST dollars are required by state law to only be used for specific purposes such as building new schools or renovating existing ones, funding increased technology needs and purchasing new buses. If you’d like additional information about ESPLOST, the Bryan County Schools’ website has detailed information about how these dollars have been used in the past and what specific projects they will be used to fund in the future.

Additionally, we have recently received questions about the progress of the new, replacement high school in Richmond Hill. At various levels, there are significant safeguards put in place for the approval of new construction and renovation of schools. Approvals of architectural drawings, wetlands’ protection plans, life/safety codes, are just of few of the items that must be garnered. As of now, Phase I of the site preparation plan is complete and Phase II is well underway. While we support the intense scrutiny given to construction plans, because we understand the focus is on the safety of our children, please know our district cannot move forward until all regulation hurdles are cleared.

Furthermore, construction costs and materials prices have significantly increased in the last 12 months. This spring, projects for sub-contractors were put out to bid. The main building for the replacement Richmond Hill High School was originally projected to cost less than $100 million when planning began over 5 years ago. However, the cost of the project, as originally planned, drastically increased because of escalating construction and building supply costs. Furthermore, due to the difficulties obtaining all the materials needed to construct a building in excess of 500,000 square feet, Bryan County Schools has been forced to pause. Our focus is on determining how to proceed in the most fiscally responsible and realistic way. In all honesty, even if costs had not skyrocketed, the inability to order all the supplies needed for construction would force us to pause in moving forward.

We’ve also been asked how our Cares Act funds have been spent in our district. As an aside, please know every member of the Bryan County Board of Education considers themselves to be a fiscally conservative person. While we do appreciate the federal government allocating the additional funding to decrease the impact of COVID on our district, we also appreciate Cares Act funds have tight stipulations about how they can be spent. Unless you serve on a Board of Education, you may not realize school districts must identify how Cares Act funds will be used and must be granted approval by the Department of Education. Cares Act money has the flexibility to be spent over the next 3 years and must be tied to decreasing the impact of the pandemic on school districts. Bryan County Schools has used our Cares Act funding for items such as cleaning supplies, increased technology needs, and for our summer learning program for students who needed additional academic support.

For more information, please seek out the Georgia Department of Education dashboard on their website, under the COVID-19 information section. This information is for the public to access federal COVID relief grants and the percentage of funds that have been drawn down or spent. All school districts in Georgia have their information available for review.

Finally, a word about the Board of Education collecting impact fees to help alleviate costs associated with being a high growth district. Unfortunately, school systems are not allowed, by Georgia law, to establish and collect Development Impact Fees.

In closing, we would be remiss if we didn’t express how much we love the Bryan County community. Our children and grandchildren walk the same hallways of our school buildings as yours do.

We shop at the same stores and cheer on the same ball fields as you do. We feel honored and proud to serve the Bryan County community as Board of Education members. Our primary goal is to continue the proud tradition of academic excellence this community not only expects, but that our students overwhelmingly deserve.

Amy Murphy is chairwoman of the Bryan County Board of Education. She wrote this on behalf of the entire board.

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