Superintendent Cochran lays groundwork for future projects

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2016

By John Simpson

Reporter

Last month the Decatur County Board of Education approved the language for the 2017 SPLOST. The language for the upcoming SPLOST and the language of the past SPLOST was barely changed; however the money can be used in drastically different ways.

Over the past five-year SPLOST, the Board was able to chip away at the debt from the high school and was able to resolve all the debt left over after building Jones-Wheat Elementary School. 

Last SPLOST saw around 21 million dollars put to use for the board of education, and this year is expected to see less than that, according to Superintendent Tim Cochran.

Of the 21 million dollars, 7 and a half million were used to retire some of the debt associated with the high school, while the rest paid off the $13 million debt associated with Jones-Wheat. After those two debts were paid, only half a million dollars were left to take care of other needs within the school system.

However, with Jones Wheat being paid off in full over one SPLOST, it frees up money to be allocated elsewhere in this upcoming SPLOST.

Cochran says that he anticipates seeing around $18 to $19 million in this upcoming SPLOST. Like last SPLOST, $7.5 million is allocated toward the high school, but the rest of this one will be put toward facility needs. The board has no clear cut plan yet for which needs will be tended to first and which will be set aside. The current SPLOST runs through July of 2017 so the board has time.

“We’ve got a lot of planning to do to best allocate our resources moving forward,” said Cochran. “With the age of our facilities we can’t get it done in a five-year plan. We have to be forward thinking and have really a 10 to 15-year plan because we have so many buildings and it’s a large cost.”

One thing that will be taken care of this SPLOST is the addition of more busses to the school system’s fleet. Cochran said he wants to add five busses a year in order to keep up and maintain the fleet. The cost of those busses may not be strictly from the SPLOST however. Cochran said that depending on what the budget will look like for the next year, the cost could be a combination of SPLOST money and money from the general budget.

The next area of improvement that Cochran wants to focus on is in technology. With the high cost of Jones-Wheat in the last SPLOST, the money left over to add more technology was very limited. This SPLOST fund will be different according to Cochran. He wants to spend SPLOST money across the school district.

“One thing that we’ve done is to expand our use of Chromebook. That’s definitely something that we would like to continue to do because we have seen a really good student engagement in those areas where we’ve been able to incorporate those into,” said Cochran, “and we have a lot of them in our district but we don’t have enough of them so that it’s a daily occurrence in all the classrooms.”

Another important part of the budget will be the consolidation of the board of education offices to West Bainbridge Elementary. However, it is unclear if that is something that’s going to be done immediately. There is precautionary language set into the SPLOST that would allow the board to use SPLOST money in case they need to buy a new location for the consolidated office if needed.

The schedule of facility improvements is being finalized by the board and will layout the plans for the next five years. In the meantime, there seem to be at least three areas that the board will focus on for the upcoming SPLOST, which will get a significant in funding from the current SPLOST.