Board adds to construction project

Published 11:35 pm Thursday, April 14, 2011

A bulldozer works to level a portion of the construction site of the new Selma High School. Thursday, the Selma City School Board approved a measure that would renovate additional buildings on the school campus. -- Rick Couch

The new Selma High School construction project already has come with an estimated $27 million price tag. Now, you can add another $2 million to that tab as the Selma City School Board approved a measure that will likely give the system access to a low-interest loan to renovate the high school’s career tech department, choir and band rooms and physical education building.

The money, which is made available through what is called a quality zone assurance bond (QZAB), could be provided to the system at either no interest or low interest — likely no more than 2 percent — but officials won’t know the full details until the bonds are sold and the terms are set.

It was these unknown factors, and the projected additional debt payments, that led to a heated debate by a few of the board members.

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“I don’t think I have enough information on how we are going to pay for this, where the money is going to come from to pay for this additional debt, to support this measure,” school board member Frank Chestnut Jr. said. “I want some more details.”

According to superintendent of education Donald Jefferson, he and other officials are projecting the payments on this money to be no worse than $173,000 annually, and will not take effect until the terms of the loan are agreed upon.

“I am not sure why we are going further in debt in renovating these buildings that we originally did not find needed renovating early on,” school board member Holland Powell said. “We decided these buildings did not need renovating because they had been renovated a number of years ago and that we didn’t have the money to do it. Now we do?”

Board member Udo Ufomadu said he supported the additional debt for something more fundamental than whether or not the system had the money to pay for it.

“We are going to make some cuts and we know that,” Ufomadu said. “But we have made a commitment to these students to give them a new school and I don’t believe we should do it halfway. We need to renovate all the buildings. If you’re building a new house, you’re not going to build it halfway.”

Powell quickly asked Ufomadu, “but what if the bank forecloses on your new house? If you can’t afford a bigger house then you shouldn’t build one. I have said it before; we cannot continue to go further in debt. We cannot borrow our way out of bankruptcy.”

The board finally approved the measure, giving Jefferson permission to move ahead with finalizing the application and acquiring the funds.

The system is scheduled to pay off another QZAB loan from 2001 this September, a loan that had an annual debt service cost of $134,000. The projected $173,000 payments tied to this load are projected and, according to board president Henry Hicks, are based on a worst-cased scenario of 2 percent interest.

“It could come back much lower than that,” Hicks said. “We will have to wait and see. But, the amount we are projecting is a worst-cased scenario.”

Powell had said the system should not add this additional debt, saving the money that was being paid to the current loan.

“At a time when we are looking at closing schools in an effort to save money, here is $134,000 that we can save and potentially keep from closing a school,” Powell said.