Board Briefs: School Board Unanimously Approves Contract for New Educational Services Facility
The School Board on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, unanimously approved a contract for construction of a new administration building that will reunify staff and increase efficiency in central office operations.
The new/replacement facility has been needed, as well as approved by voters through Education Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referenda, for 15 years; but Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank R. Petruzielo had repeatedly recommended postponement in order to construct 19 new schools.
“We can no longer productively and efficiently manage and supervise the School District with central office staff spread out throughout the County in facilities that were not designed to meet current operational needs,” Dr. Petruzielo said. “This new facility will allow for more efficient operations and better serve students, employees and the general public.”
The $16 Million contract funded by Education SPLOST revenue to build the 90,300 square-foot CCSD Educational Services Facility in Canton was awarded to Womack, Lewis and Smith Construction.
The complex, which includes an office building and a professional development training center/School Board auditorium, will be built on more than 15 acres on the Bluffs Parkway north of Riverstone Plaza. The School District received the property in an exchange with the City of Canton for CCSD Buildings A and B downtown.
Construction will begin in January and be completed by August 2017. The new facility will reunite 150 employees from various departments in one centrally located, cost-effective office building; and the training center/auditorium, with a capacity for 690, will allow for professional development, special events and School Board meetings in a space that is significantly larger than current options.
School Board members at Thursday’s meeting also heard several presentations from staff.
School Board Member Mike Chapman requested a presentation on school safety in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. and France. School District Police Chief Mark Kissel gave an overview of the department’s history, current operations and recent upgrades, such as the installation of buzz-in electronic school entrance systems that eliminate the practice of keeping one front door unlocked.
“We take it very seriously that this threat is out there,” Mr. Chapman said of school safety, noting that he has been “very impressed” by the Department’s operations and partnerships with other local law enforcement, especially in light of the fact that CCSD receives no State funds for safety and security.
At the request of Board Chair Kyla Cromer, Susan McCarthy, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Programs, Student Support and Professional Development, spoke about student out-of-country field trips. Ms. McCarthy assured the Board that CCSD works closely with its vendor for travel services, which monitors safety and security issues before and during such trips.
Also at the request of the Chair, Ken Owen, Assistant Superintendent for Financial Management, spoke about CCSD’s recent State audit and the closing meeting that they and the Superintendent attended this week with the auditors. Per State law, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts may at any time elect to perform a random audit on any state or local unit of government. The State in November 2014 notified CCSD that Fiscal Year 2014 operations would be audited, in part due to the actions of a former School Board member.
The State audit concentrated on the financial statement work performed by Williamson and Company, the third-party, independent auditor hired by the School Board. After nearly six months of on-site review, an unprecedented experience for CCSD, the State found no instance of fraud, waste or mismanagement. The State’s report concludes with an unmodified opinion, the most positive rating possible.
“The people from the State were very complimentary of [Mr. Owen],” Ms. Cromer said. “They were very impressed… and very satisfied with what we are doing.”
The State report’s findings refer only to the financial statements produced by Williamson and Company, and not to the staff or operations of the CCSD Office of Financial Management. All recommended changes to FY14 financial statements have been made by Williamson and Company at no charge to CCSD. All operational recommendations have been implemented (more than 75% were in place prior to completion of the State audit) or will be in place by the end of the current fiscal year.
Mr. Owen also noted that CCSD hired an internal auditor this fiscal year, who began work on July 1, to continually review and test internal controls and assist in identifying additional opportunities for operational improvements/efficiencies.
Board Member Kelly Poole, who is an accountant, asked as to whether the internal auditor would assist CCSD in developing its own financial statements. Mr. Owen said that work is underway to do just that, beginning with a parallel process for FY16 that will be compared to the independent auditor’s statements.
The Board, at the request of the Chair, also heard a presentation on the Tax Allocation District (TAD) being considered by the City of Holly Springs. School Board Attorney Tom Roach explained the process, which, if approved by the School Board, would allow the City to withhold a certain percentage of property tax growth revenue that otherwise would fund school operations to instead be used by the City to redevelop its downtown area.
Mr. Roach and Dr. Petruzielo both voiced concerns that the City has not provided the legally required written proposal or basic information about the project’s scope and the financial impact to CCSD, but the City is holding public meetings at which the TAD is being potentially erroneously described as in CCSD’s best interest.
Dr. Petruzielo said it appears that the City’s proposed TAD could significantly increase residential growth (which increases the cost of CCSD operations), rather than focusing solely on increasing commercial growth, which would improve the property tax base to the benefit of CCSD operations.
As a result, both Mr. Roach and Dr. Petruzielo said it would be premature and irresponsible for staff to make a recommendation to the Board that this TAD be approved.
“You don’t want to be in a position where money that should be spent on students and teachers is being spent to develop Holly Springs’ downtown,” he said.
During its regular meeting, the School Board also:
- Recognized Cherokee County School District Teacher of the Year Jeremy Law of Teasley MS;
- Recognized the Creekview HS girls’ cross-country team members and coaches for winning first-place at the Regional competition and second-place at the State championship meet;
- Recognized the Cherokee HS advanced welding teacher and students for constructing a 28-foot Eiffel Tower tribute for the Holiday Lights of Hope display at Hobgood Park benefitting the Anna Crawford Children’s Center;
- Approved a resolution in regard to the planned use of construction bonds;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved the disposal of surplus property through a surplus sale at 9 a.m. on Dec. 12 at the CCSD Warehouse at 201 Mountain Brook Court in Canton;
- Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
- Approved monthly update on capital outlay projects;
- Approved monthly personnel recommendations; and,
- Approved an amendment to the Aramark custodial services contract to increase staffing.
Next School Board meeting: 6 p.m. Dec. 18, 2015