WS/FCS prepares to roll out bond referendum

by Chanel Davis

| @Chanelrdavis

Officials with Winston Salem/ Forsyth County Schools are starting early to ensure they can pay for school construction and renovations with the help of a bond referendum expected to be on the November 2016 ballot.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Chief-of-Staff Theo Helm said that they are starting early to make sure all needs have an opportunity to be met.

“We are still in the early stages right now,” he said. “At this point we are trying to get the board as much information as we can about why different projects were picked and how they fit the needs of the students.”

In July, staff began looking at different ways to meet the needs of the district while prioritizing what projects would be the most important.

The last large bond referendum for the schools system was in 2006 and allowed for $250 million to be used for construction, renovations and improvements. The district asked for $422 million, Helm said, but understood that they wouldn’t receive that much.

Since that time, the district has grown by at least 7,000 students, buildings have aged and facilities need to be addressed. A lot of that growth has come in the county’s southern and western sections. In the 2014-2015 school year student enrollment was 53,689 compared to the 2004-2005

school year student enrollment of 47,850. In 2014, the district had 465 mobile classrooms compared to 358 in 2006.

“We have needs from a capacity standpoint and needs in terms of renovations. None of these are recommendations but more like a starting point to look at the bond referendum in different ways,” Helm said. “We have grown over time and we’ve added mobile units to help deal with the crowded conditions in some of our schools.”

Helm said that the there are four options that have been presented to the board as proposals, ranging from $552 to $268 million. Each option has taken into account that district’s goals of improving childhood literacy, increasing the graduation rate and closing the achievement gap.

The first option is the most expensive with a price tag of $552 million. That options would ensure that everything that needed to be addressed throughout the district could be, including looking at how to draw a more diverse population to different schools and adding more magnet and specialized programs. The second option provides additional space to crowded schools and addresses facilities in need of repairs due to age. That would cost the system $334 million.

The third bond option would focus on meeting the district’s goal of improving literacy through early education.

The $284 million price tag would include building a $3 million prekindergarten center and adding 22 prekindergarten classrooms. The fourth option’s focus is on the middle school population in an effort to address the district’s capacity needs and help expose children to more programs. This bond is the least expensive at $268 million and calls for the addition of three new middle schools and the renovation of three more.

All of the options include projects that Helm said just can’t wait any longer. Those priority projects will be addressed no matter what option voters are given. A total of $149,311,718 is estimated to complete the priority list, which includes renovations at Konnoak Elementary, relocation for Lowrance Middle, renovation for the career and technical education classrooms at John F. Kennedy High, and improvements to the stadium at Mount Tabor High School.

A new site for Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy is also on the list but is contingent on finding a place that will allow the school’s academic and athletic programs to stay intact while reflecting the school’s mission for students to do college-level work in high school. Once that move is complete the Cameron Avenue location can be considered a long-term site for Hanes Magnet School.

The remaining projects would include $21,185,145 to upgrade the media centers in all of the schools to create innovative learning centers, a new middle school estimated at $26,989,200 to address the overcrowding in the current middle schools, and $29,400,000 to for maintenance and capital improvements such as roofs, boilers, chillers, lights and fire alarms.

WS/FCS Board of Education Chair Dana Caudill Jones said that the board is excited to work with the county and the community as they explore a bond possibility.

“There are lots of opportunities for us. We are still in preliminary stages but I feel like in the next couple of months we will feel good about presenting it to the public and the county commissioners,” Jones said.

To share thoughts and ideas about the bond options residents can send feedback to WSFCSInfo@wsfcs.k12. Public forums will be scheduled throughout the fall and winter as the school board prepares to present its request to the Forsyth County Commissioners in the spring.

“Throughout the fall we will be emailing parents and asking residents’ opinions,” Helm said. !