By Crystal Burns
The Gibson County Special School District Board of Trustees tackled two major financial items at its June meeting held Thursday in Dyer.
The board voted 6-0 to approve a $34M budget that does not include a pay raise for teachers but does keep the property tax rate at its current $2.0103 per $100 assessed value on all real and personal property. Chairman Tom Lannom was absent.
Director of Finance & Operations Terry Cunningham explained that Governor Bill Lee had removed teacher pay increases from the state budget, so the local district will retain the same salary schedule used in the 2019-20 fiscal year. Director of Schools Eddie Pruett said the salary schedule includes step increases for teachers and support staff that typically average about a 1% pay increase per year.
The $34,093,593 budget is balanced.
The board also voted 6-0 to continue paying 18% of district retirees’ health insurance costs up to the age of 65. Cunningham estimated this year’s cost would be about $12,000 and said that number goes down a little bit every year.
Medina site work – The board voted 6-0 to approve $1,690,961 for early site work to be done on the South Gibson County High School sports complex in Medina. Greer Lashlee of Lashlee-Rich, the district’s construction manager, said the project received 21 bids, which were opened June 16.
Triple H Backhoe was awarded bid packages for earthwork for $892,000, asphalt stone for $122,000, and sodding for $102,000. Bill Rogers Plumbing was awarded the bid package for site plumbing for $177,600, Delta Electric for site electrical for $124,074, and Key Fire Protection for fire protection for $45,018.
Cunningham noted that the bids came in $200,000 less than leaders had expected.
“We were pleased with the numbers,” Lashlee said. “These came in less than we anticipated.”
Estimated time of completion is four to five months depending on weather, Lashlee said.
Lengthy discussion complete project – The board discussed at length the pros and cons of bidding out the remainder of the SGCHS sports complex project, which includes two baseball fields, one softball field, one soccer field, one track, stands, fieldhouses, and concessions.
Lashlee and Project Manager Billy Hill recommended the board bid out the remainder of the project and let them do a little extra work to provide estimates on costs for phasing the project if the total is too much to chew in one bite. Lashlee reiterated the site work bids coming in under his estimate and said he would think other projects would as well as companies are eager for work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lashlee and Hill also noted that the district’s architect, TLM Associates, is about 90% through with the renderings. Asking them to draw the project in phases could add to their fees.
“There’s no question we’re going to get a better value if we bid it all as one project,” Lashlee said.
Lashlee also said the board would not have to rebid the project should it decide to construct the complex in phases.
Cunningham said in addition to saving money on construction, the district should save on financing by letting bids for the entire project. He said interest rates on bond issues are at historic lows, but no one can project how long those rates will last.
Board member Eddie Watkins asked if the project would cause the district to raise property tax rates, and Cunningham replied that he thinks the district would be “in pretty good shape if we get the financing when it’s low.”
“If I was projecting right now, I think we’ll be okay,” he said.
The board ultimately voted 6-0 to bid the total project.
SRO update – Pruett provided an update on School Resource Officers. The district has received a state grant to pay for up to $35,000 of a SRO’s salary at schools that have never had an SRO. He and Cunningham have spoken with local boards about splitting the costs of the remaining $20,000 between the municipalities and the district.
Pruett said he is also working with the Gibson County Commission budget committee and Chairman Michael Longmire. He said the issue Longmire has is that if the Gibson County Sheriff’s Office, which will provide the SROs to the schools, hires four new employees, the sheriff could hold the commission to a maintenance of effort even if the state pulls the grant.
Pruett said a County Technical Advisory Service (CTAS) representative recommended he ask Sheriff Paul Thomas to write a letter to the commission saying he won’t hold county leaders to a maintenance of effort. Pruett said he has spoken with Thomas who is supportive of the efforts to get SROs in more local schools.
Vandalism at old Medina Elementary School – Pruett told the board that there have been break-ins at vandalism at the old Medina Elementary School on June 14 and 24. On June 24, Pruett met the Medina Police Department and the former school and provided them with security camera footage of the latest incident. He said police were able to identify the suspects.
Medina Police Chief Jason Oliver told The Mirror-Exchange that officers have arrested juveniles. No other information was available at press time.