This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
On Monday night, the Caldwell County Schools will ask the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners to borrow $14.5 million to build a new middle school for the Hibriten district.
School officials say the school system can make the annual debt payments without an increase in the system’s budget or a tax increase, largely because they’ve anticipated this need for so long.
There are two customary sources that K-12 schools use for construction and other capital projects, Superintendent Steve Stone said: a percentage of sales tax revenue they receive from the county and the state, and a percentage of lottery revenue that’s allocated to school districts based on the number of students they serve.
The Caldwell County Schools get about $2.4 million a year in sales tax revenue and about $850,000 in lottery revenue, Stone said. Both funding streams are restricted to brick-and-mortar capital projects. They can’t be used for teacher salaries, classroom development or anything that’s not a capital expense.
The members of the Caldwell County Board of Education have known for more than a decade they would need a replacement for William Lenoir Middle School, so they’ve been working to pay down debt and put aside some sales tax and lottery revenue, Stone said.
The school’s total fund balance for capital projects now totals about $3 million, mostly from unspent sales tax and lottery revenue, Stone said.
If sales tax revenue rises by just 1 percent a year, the school system could make its payments on the new facility and still manage to add to its fund balance through fiscal 2032-33, according to data provided by Stone.
The General Assembly could throw a wrench into the school system’s plans by cutting what schools get from the lottery or sales tax, but Stone said he doesn’t see that happening. Most districts “live on” those funds and need them for day-to-day operation, he said.
“I think there’s enough people with sense to realize the Wake counties and the Charlotte-Mecks would have to fold,” Stone said.
If the county commissioners approve the school system’s request Monday, the new school should be completed by the 2015-16 school year, Stone said.