Financing Debate for Two New Schools

Bay County School Board members are still struggling with the funding for 2-new proposed schools.

Breakfast Point K-through-8 school on Panama City Beach and Magnolia Springs Elementary off Highway 231 near Deer Point Lake are both targeted for growth areas of the county.

Board members say the new schools are the price we have to pay for our growing population.

School Board member Ginger Littleton says more than 900 local students are not attending class in permanent buildings. "They're in portables. With class size reduction, we can't just stick them in classrooms and hope that 30 in a classroom works."

And Littleton says the situation is only going to get worse over the next 10 years. She and the other school board members are discussing the need for 2 new schools.

Wayne Elmore, the School Board’s Facilities Director says after class-size reduction laws were passed, school board surveys showed a need for the new schools. "By just passing that law, we lost over 3-thousand student stations. That's equivalent to 3 to 4 schools."

When discussions started last year, the estimated construction costs were 32-million dollars. This year the combined cost is an estimated 40-million dollars.

Supporters Littleton, Donna Allen and Johnny Brock say the longer the county waits, the more construction costs will increase. They want to borrow the money or increase property taxes to pay for the schools. Brock says the money just isn’t in the bank. "We have to understand, we'll never have enough money for anything and we know that."

Board members Jon McFatter and Pat Sabiston seem to be hesitant on the new school proposal. Mcfatter says borrowing the money would mean another 10-20-million dollars in interest payments. Sabiston wants guarantees that the schools are actually necessary.

Given the current crash in the local real estate market, some have even questioned there is a need for the new schools. Littleton says we need to plan ahead. “I think there have been a number of neysayers who say we're not busting at the seams so why do this? We're not busting at the seams right now but in 10 years this place will look very different."

Littleton admits rezoning students to less-populate schools is always an option. But she does not foresee busing beach students over the bridge to schools in Panama City. "Our druthers would be to keep kids who live on the beach on the beach. Our ultimate goal is to have children going to school as close to their own homes and communities as possible.”

The school board will meet Wednesday to discuss borrowing money to finance the schools. Once financing is secure, construction on the new buildings can begin.

Supporters of the new schools proposal also point out the savings on the land. St. Joe Company donated the land for Breakfast Point and D&H Properties donated the land for Magnolia Springs Elementary.