The Moore County School Board met in a special called meeting Friday to discuss the budget shortfall for three elementary schools being built: Pinehurst, Aberdeen, and Southern Pines.
The current school expansion calls for four new schools and additions to North Moore High School.
McDeeds Creek Elementary School was funded through limited obligation bonds and is fully funded, with a scheduled opening for the 2020 school year. The North Moore additions will likewise be financed through limited obligation bonds.
The remaining three schools are being funded by a general obligation bond (totaling $103 million) that the voters approved last May.
The Southern Pines Elementary School is facing a cost over-run of $2.68 million, which initially the county commissioners had agreed to fund, but later rescinded that decision, citing a desire not go against the will of the voters who had approved the requested budget.
Several factors were responsible for the cost over-run including a mistake in estimating the grading costs for the Southern Pines location, and the escalating costs of construction materials. The original budget had 4 percent for inflation built into the budget, but the actual rate has been between 8-9 percent.
Changes in tariffs and other foreign trade issues have resulted in a dramatic increase in the price of some construction materials including steel. The 4 perent construction escalation figure was a negotiated agreement between the school board and the board of commissioners.
Cost cutting and maintaining equity between the schools was the primary focus of Friday’s discussion.
So far, value engineering has managed to cut almost $1 million out of the construction budget, but as Superintendent Dr. Robert Grimesey stated, “Value engineering means a lower standard of quality.”
The school administration has started a survey to see what furniture and technology equipment can be transferred to the new schools. Board Member Stacy Caldwell was concerned that McDeeds Creek Elementary School would get new furniture and the other schools would get a “mishmash”.
Other factors include that many of the school’s technology pieces are at “end of life” and are no longer supported with software updates or spare parts.
Board Vice Chairman Libby Carter pointed out “that school technology is not cutting edge to begin with and taking a step back seems unwise.” Also, the usable furniture that was being removed from the existing schools was initially earmarked to replace even older and worn out furniture at other schools.
Moore County received a Bond Premium on the Southern Pines and Aberdeen schools totaling $5.8 million.
A bond sold at a premium to par has a market price that is above the face value amount. The difference between the bond’s carrying value and the bond’s face value is the premium of the bond.
Board Chairman Helena Wallin-Miller was thankful that Moore County’s strong financial position allowed them to earn a premium on the bonds. The board requested that school administration staff see if any of those premium payments would be available to cover some/all of the budget shortfall.
The results of the survey and discussions with the county will be discussed at the May regular meeting.
In another action, the board agreed to extend the school naming process until mid-winter to allow for more community feedback. The upcoming public hearings have been canceled and will be rescheduled at a later date. The online portals established for the naming process have received roughly 200 comments per school.
The next meeting of the school board will be for the initial presentation of the school redistricting plan April 1 at 2 pm.
Feature photo: Sign for Moore County Schools Administrative Offices in Carthage~Sandhills Sentinel.
~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Local News/Government Reporter Chris Prentice.