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Amid COVID-19 outbreak, school bond sale nets additional $40 million for projects
Poole's Mill Elementary School 1 071919
Construction crews work on Poole's Mill Elementary School, which is slated to open in August of 2020. (Photo courtesy Forsyth County Schools)

The local school system is expected to see an additional $40 million go toward future projects after approving the sale of the second half of a $295 million school bond approved by voters in 2018.

At a called meeting on Monday, the Forsyth County Board of Education unanimously approved the issuance of $147.5 million in general obligation bonds and execution of the bond agreement with Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. 

Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey said the COVID-19 outbreak had impacted the markets but credited Larry Hammel, the school system's chief financial officer, and Bryce Holcomb, Citigroup's head of Georgia public finance, for their work to make the sale a success.

“This is the result of a lot of work that [Holcomb has] done for us, but also having our AAA bond rating over the last several years, which we worked hard to get shoring up our reserves,” Morrissey said.

Superintendent Jeff Bearden echoed the sentiment and said even with the impact the virus was having on the community, the school system was in a good place.

“We do realize that we are in uncertain times with the economy," Bearden said, "but we did spend a lot of time looking at our finances, and we were very comfortable with our existing situation and our existing reserves and both our SPLOST and our bond revenues that we have the funds to pay for this bond for the foreseeable future. So we are in good shape."

Due to favorable conditions in the market, Holcomb said the school system was able to get a premium on the bond of about $40 million with no impact on the AAA bond rating from both Moody's and Standard & Poor's.

“So, that is easily the largest premium you've ever gotten, and it once again reflects how low rates are and how well you trade in the marketplace,”  Holcomb said. “What that means to you is off of this issue, net, after the cost of issuance, you're going to have put monies in the ground of $187 million, a little over that amount. That's at or near the highest number that we had shown Larry to date."

Holcomb said his office and FCS officials had kept a close look at the markets as they reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We recognized we had a problem about March, 12 maybe 13,”  he said. “We notified your management team, we started having weekly calls with them. We’ve been watching this like a hawk, everybody has, and we notified Larry last Wednesday afternoon that we thought it would make a lot of sense to go back into the market place.”

In 2018, Forsyth County voters approved the $295 million bond with about 66.5% of the 32,008 ballots cast voting in favor. The bond will fund new school technology, improved facilities, safety measures and four news schools – Poole's Mill Elementary School, an unnamed elementary school in south Forsyth, Donald F. Hendricks Middle School and East Forsyth High School.