This week the Fayette County Board of Education is asking the public to offer input to the decision whether to “fundamentally transform” J.C. Booth Middle School or build a new one.
The majority of nearly $40 million funding required for either of these projects will come from the recently approved ESPLOST.
However, when the FCBOE came to the public to request “ESPLOST III,” they did not ask for more than $40 million for a new middle school; instead they asked for $10 million to renovate the gym and cafeteria at Booth as part of an approximate $70 million pool for repairs and improvements to all of our schools.
While some suggest there is urgency needed for this decision, nothing has changed since before the ESPLOST election either in the structure of the building, student population, or excellent educational results. The only measurable change is in the amount of money the FCBOE has to spend, thanks to the ESPLOST.
Some will argue that that the opportunity to purchase the land in question was not known before the election barely two years ago. Then we should purchase the land and hold until the voters can decide if they want to fund such an expensive venture.
However, in the absence of new facts, some still argue that it would be nice to have a new school. Nothing that did not exist before the election.
Therefore, based on the board’s estimate, the decision should be between the $40 million+ for the new building and the original $10 million budget proposed. Not between a new school and an inflated and improbable transformation.
Even with a 50-percent addition for cost over-runs, the budget for the renovation would be $15 million or $25 million less than the current “transformative” proposal.
Some opposed to the ESPLOST was concerned about the possibility of the BOE telling the voters what they need to hear to get access to the funds and then changing course. While there isn’t a violation in any law, the current course of events does not prove these critics wrong.
None of the three ESPLOSTs authorized by our community have passed with wide margins. In fact, the first two barely passed. The September 26, 2017 board deck speaks to the $74 million renovations budget and possible classroom additions to Booth.
At the $10 million discussed, Booth would have been approximately 13 percent of the renovations budget. Now we are talking about more than 50 percent of the current renovations budget, and nearly 25 percent of the total expected ESPLOST collections. What projects at which schools will be cancelled to pay for this school?
None of this is to argue whether or not a new building for Booth is warranted or necessary, but rather to raise a concern about the transparency of the process and completeness of the information.
As co-chairman of all three ESPLOSTs, it has been an honor and privilege to present the facts to the voters of Fayette County and participate in a robust and thoughtful discussion of whether to grant our school system ESPLOST funds.
I like and respect the board members and administrators involved and again thank them for their service. However, I do not believe the current decision offered to the public reflects a change from the original information as the needs at Booth have not changed.
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Editor’s note: Public hearings are scheduled for Monday, Sept. 23 at 6 p.m., and Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. Both hearings for public input will be held in the Fayette County Board of Education meeting room located at 205 LaFayette Avenue, Building A, Fayetteville, Georgia 30214.]