Projected growth, dwindling funds hit Morgan schools

Jul 19 2011 - 10:46pm

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MORGAN -- Despite a down economy and lagging housing market, Morgan County is still poised to grow, a prospect that worries Morgan school officials because revenues to deal with growth are sagging along with the economy.

"We are between a rock and a hard spot," said Morgan Superintendent Ken Adams.

To handle as many as 600 new students over the next six years, school board members have tossed around several options, including building an addition to the high school, an addition to the middle school, an additional elementary school and an additional middle school in the Mountain Green area.

"When the economy rebounds -- bang! -- it's going to hit us," said board member Ken Durrant. "It's going to come to Mountain Green first."

Although the county's only school district has a bonding capacity of $33 million, officials feel comfortable with payments that would support $25 million of construction debt.

However, recent building projects have debt payment money tied up for years.

"Our limit has nothing to do with what we can afford," said board member Bruce Galbraith.

To make matters worse, the assessed value of homes and businesses in Morgan County has been dropping for the past two years, along with collection rates.

"With only housetops, we don't have a lot of options," Galbraith said. "We are out of money."

Business administrator D'Lynn Poll said constructing an addition to the high school would cost $9 million and constructing a middle school would run $20 million.

In the event that taxpayers reject bonds to fund future construction projects, district officials will be left with few options but to increase class sizes to 35 students or consider year-round school, Durrant said.

Another option is to "live in portables," said board chairman Joey Skinner.

Adams hopes to avoid such options.

"I don't think you have enough time to not do something," he said.

Poll said that to get a project finished by 2014, taxpayers would have to approve a bond in 2012.

Because the district's bonding limit isn't enough to build an entire new high school, board members said they plan to continue renovating and replacing the high school piece by piece.

Durrant said: "What else can you do in a community with a small tax base?"

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