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School bond referendum on ballot
Focus is on technology, facilities
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County - As voters line up for local and state primary elections May 20, the Forsyth County School System is hopeful they will also pay attention to the bond referendum that will appear on the ballot.

The referendum asks voters to decide if the system should issue $195 million in general obligation bonds to fund a new middle school, a new high school and more than $80 million in improvements for existing schools. About $9 million would also go toward transportation and more than $17 million toward technology — upgrading network, expanding data storage, enlarging the Wi-Fi network and replacing aging projectors and upgrading video systems.

“It’s really an opportunity for us to insure we’re going to provide 21st century educational learning space for kids in a way that is equitable, has foresight, vision and that will give our community an opportunity to ... say we value and we support the vision that is being put forth by the district by saying either yes or no,” said Superintendent Buster Evans.

If voters approve the measure, funds from the 18-yeabond would be available as soon as this fall, with work on projects slated to last through 2018. School officials hope the bonds would be paid off through future 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes rather than adding to the bond millage rate. Voters would have to vote to extend SPLOST collections.

The largest portion of money, more than $60 million, is going toward improvements to all five of Forsyth’s high schools, with a focus on the older schools. Forsyth Central High School, the county’s oldest, will receive a new cafeteria, kitchen and media center. The current east cafeteria will be used for more classrooms and engineering labs. The school will also receive drama and chorus classrooms, a modification to the west hall building for an intensive intervention special education center and the existing CTAE building will be modified to include a third automotive lab.  Facilities Director Bill McKnight said all improvements will enhance the programs offered by each school. “A good example of that will be the automotive area at Central,” he said. “If this bond passes, we’ll be upgrading the automotive program to where they’ll have another area down there and they’ll be the only high school in the state that will have that.
“With these additions, we’re making our programs larger so they’ll also be able to accept more students. They’re very limited now for space.”

Central staff members visited each school to talk through a list of top needs and priorities last fall. The committee worked the list down to take only the highest priority items, said Dan Jones, county chief financial officer.
Because the list still had to be pared down, Jones said even if the referendum passes, “there is still going to be need out there.”
But if it doesn’t pass, the school system would be left with few options.
“We’re still going to have the growth, we’re still going to have to house these kids, we’re still going to have to hire teachers to teach these kids and there may be a possibility we have to increase class size to do this,” Jones said. “The only other option to do these projects would have to be an increase in a millage rate to raise the money. We can’t raise the millage rate high enough to build a school or do some of these big-ticket items, so some of that would have to be delayed until we can have another election.”

Chief Technology and Information Officer Marty Bray said technology improvements are needed to make sure all schools and all students have equal access, particularly with Microsoft Windows XP no longer being supported.  “We have needs for things like wireless upgrades,” he said. “We have equipment that, in some cases, might be six years old, which is ancient in computer and technology terms.”

In addition to Central, Lambert High School will get some new classrooms, including a band classroom and a new health care lab and engineering lab for the school’s career pathway focuses.  West Forsyth High also will be getting band and chorus classrooms as well as labs for career technology. South Forsyth High would get a band room, gym new cafeteria and kitchen, and new career technology labs.

Finally, North Forsyth High would receive 22 new and modified classrooms, a new cafeteria, chorus room, parking modifications and new career technology labs. The school would also receive a gym with a ROTC annex and range. At the elementary school level, upgrades are mostly focused on media centers, while middle school improvements include technology labs, addressing front entrance security concerns and adding performing arts modifications.

Jennifer Caracciolo, system spokeswoman, said the middle school expansions are primarily in Forsyth’s first-generation schools.
“They do not have the same facilities that our new middle schools have and that’s what we’re doing with Central, South and North. They don’t have the same facilities as some of the newer high schools do,” she said. “We’re trying to play catch-up from the recession and take care of some items. We’re also trying to bring all the schools up to some level of equality.”