During Wednesday’s Joint Education Committee meeting — a six-member panel of county supervisors and school board members — it seemed to be abundantly clear that there will be a new high school.
The goals of the committee were to discuss three scenarios: the high school, elementary schools and compensation.
There were no decisions made at the meeting, but instead conversations on what the correct thing to do with the borrowed funds would be.
The 1% sales tax revenue that started July 2020 — following approval by voters in 2019 — which the county has been collecting since then was believed to bring in $3.3 million. That was believed to be conservative, said Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson. The county missed a calculation by over $500,000 and knew something was off. However, state computers did not register more than $1 million worth of sales tax revenue and the funds have not been readmitted to the county.
Ben Wilson, a financial advisor for Halifax County, brought a “Schools Capital Funding Analysis” book for those in the audience at the meeting. According to the booklet Wilson handed the audience, Halifax County has a total debt of $47.11 million, with $24.13 million of county debt and $22.98 million of school debt.
Wilson’s booklet has four different cases of preliminary results. In every case the only tax being collected is the sales tax revenue, meaning the county will not have to raise taxes in order to build a new high school.
Wilson also recommended to the committee that they make decisions as soon as possible so that the interest rate of the money being borrowed will stay at 3%.
“If you make the decision to go along with the loan by the spring pool, you will have an interest rate of 3%, but waiting longer will cause movement of the interest rate and that can’t be predicted,” said Wilson.
Halifax County plans to borrow a 30-year fixed interest loan. That loan will not require payment until 14 months from when borrowed.
“We need to make sure whatever decisions we make currently doesn’t affect us 5-10 years down the road,” said Simpson.
He added, “Interest rates are going to drive how much we can borrow, I say go ahead this Spring.”
After discussion between ED-6 trustee Sandra Garner-Coleman and Simpson, it was clear that if the finances borrowed exceeded the amount the new high school will cost, those funds could be used to make upgrades to the elementary schools.
“A decision has to be made on our elementary schools,” said Coleman.
She added, “We need to find out a cost for the new high school and assess our elementary schools.”
The estimated cost for a new Halifax County High School would be about $134 million. In addition, elementary schools are going to need renovating at an estimated cost of $35 million.
In a matter of a few years, Halifax County Schools could face totals up to $169 million in additional debt.
Talks then began concerning the construction of the new Halifax County High School and committee members were given three options: To start this entire process over, continue with the current plan or go with the hybrid plan.
If the committee chooses to start the entire process over, from interviewing architects and companies, the new high school would be estimated to take 4.3 years to complete meaning students wouldn’t be able to attend the new high school until Fall 2026.
If the committee chooses to stick with the current plan it is estimated to take around 3.3 years, meaning students would be able to enter the building at the beginning of the 2025 school year.
If the committee went with the hybrid option, it would be estimated to take anywhere from 3.5 years to 4.2 years to complete.
“This project is going to last a long, long time and to the end of this century. We shouldn’t make our decision based on how long it will take,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg.
He added, “If we can get our high school built and our elementary schools renovated without raising taxes, I think that’s amazing I’ve never heard of something like that.”
ED-1 trustee Kathy Fraley took a moment to take a stand for the teachers in the community, fighting for their compensation as talks seemed to take that compensation money to fund the new high school.
“We have 71 employees who can retire, when you retire the VRS looks at the last three years of employment in order to base your retirement income, and that is what I am thinking about and the majority of our board is thinking of and every penny counts,” said Fraley.
She added, “I just want you to consider this, it is important to our employees to do this, they have been through a great deal this year and last year.”
Simpson responded to Fraley’s request.
“If there is that many that are interested in retiring, then maybe they don’t need an incentive and then that money could go towards that,” said Simpson.
The committee shortly after those comments concluded the meeting and agreed to talk about the issues with Halifax County Public Schools at their next meeting.
This meeting served as a preview for their next meeting as both boards prepare for a full joint session on Thursday to resolve the issues with Halifax County Public Schools.