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School Bond approved by voters

Forsyth County voters have approved a $295,000,000 school bond that supporters say will fund four new schools, new school technology, improved facilities and safety measures in the coming years.

According to the Forsyth County Department of Voter Registrations and Elections, the bond received 66.5 percent of the 32,008 ballots cast.

“We are very grateful for the continued support from our community to provide improvements for students and teachers across the district,” said Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden.

According to Jennifer Caracciolo, director of communications for Forsyth County Schools, the system developed a list of improvements needed in the district, totaling $323,381,497, using feedback compiled from surveys of different groups and stakeholders from the county in the last year.

She said that more than $28 million of the total improvement costs will likely be covered by state funding, leaving a little more than $295 million to be financed by the bond.

The proposed bond projects can be broken into six main categories that, according to Caracciolo, include:

● $500,000 in improvement to elementary science technology engineering and math (STEM) facilities;

● $7 million in increased school safety measures;

● $3.5 million for improvements to middle and high school college and career pathway courses;

● $13 million for improvements to school transportation;

● $17 million for improvements to school technology;

● and $282 million for a number of facilities projects that will include the creation of new schools, expanded buildings and a number of different improvements to existing school facilities.

"In the last bond referendum that we are just now completing, we did a lot of improvements at existing schools,” Caracciolo said. “But this bond is a little bit different because it has a lot of new school construction."

She said now that the 2018 bond referendum  has been approved, four new schools will be built in the county including Pooles Mill Elementary School, an unnamed elementary school in south Forsyth and middle school in west Forsyth and East Forsyth High School. The district already owns the land where Pooles Mill and East Forsyth High School will eventually be built, but they are still looking to purchase land for the elementary and middle school.                                      

"Based on our growth in south and west Forsyth, we built Denmark High School, but now we have enough growth moving up to the county that we can populate East Forsyth High School," Caracciolo said.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

By their estimation, Caracciolo said East Forsyth will likely open its doors in 2021.

She said that this bond referendum will also finance the creation of a new 2,000-seat preforming arts center and a new multi-story Academies of Creative Education building that would become the central location for many non-traditional education programs in the district. Both of these buildings would likely be built on the land behind the current Forsyth County Board of Education building on Dahlonega Highway, she said.

"That would meet the needs of our schools," Caracciolo said.

In addition to the planned improvements to academic facilities in the district, the bond referendum also lists a number of improvements to athletic facilities including the replacement of stadium turf at all county high schools and remodeling or replacement projects of the stadiums at Forsyth Central, South Forsyth and North Forsyth high schools.

 Caracciolo said that if the bond referendum passes, the projects will be split into two phases.

"I can tell you from the get-go the turf on the fields would be phase one, but then the preforming arts center would be phase two," she said.

A pamphlet on the bond by Forsyth County Schools, stated the 2018 bond referendum was designed so that the bond debt service millage rate will not increase if SPLOST VIII is approved by voters in the fall.

“If approved, funds would be available fall 2018 and work would begin on proposed projects continuing until 2022,” the pamphlet stated. “If the May 22, 2018 bond is not approved by voters, the proposed projects may not be completed.”

In a statement before the vote, Bearden reiterated that the district has not increased the bond millage rate since 2011 and will not if SPLOST VIII is approved.

“We created the bond project list based on input from our stakeholders and our state approved facility needs, so if it passes our students and staff will see improvements across the district,” Bearden said. “The bond is structured to not increase the current bond millage rate if the next sales tax passes, so improvements would be paid for with the existing bond millage and by everyone that shops in the county.”