Scott County school board discusses options to deal with growth

GEORGETOWN — Creating a solution to accommodate Scott County's growing student population will be easier said than done.

That much was apparent at a work session of the Scott County school board Monday night. After discussing a few unrelated questions in preparation for Tuesday night's board meeting, members spent most of the three-hour session brainstorming ways to deal with the over-capacity high school population.

Total student capacity in ninth through 12th grade schools in the county is 2,148. Scott County's current enrollment is 2,374. That number includes 10th- through 12th-graders at Scott County High School, a separate ninth-grade facility and Elkhorn Crossing School, a career-tech building.

The number of students is projected to grow to at least 2,858 in the next 10 years as more families are lured to the county due largely to low tax rates.

"I will tell you, that is probably a conservative number," Superintendent Patricia Putty told the board.

Those in attendance included two people who were elected to the board last week, Jo Anna Fryman and Jennifer Holbert. They will not be sworn in until January.

There were five proposals discussed Monday, including converting Georgetown Middle School to a high school and converting Scott County Middle School to a ninth-grade facility.

The other three proposals centered on building a new high school. Residents have indicated they would like to see a second high school built, board members said.

The problem is that the county does not have the money. Architects and engineers have projected that a 1,500-student high school would cost about $64 million. A 1,250-student school would cost about $50 million.

"I just don't see us coming up with $60 million," board member Haley Conway said. "I don't see it happening in the next 20 years. I'm being a realist. We don't have an old uncle going to pass away and leave it to us. I don't think any of the board members here have got it to give to us."

In order to build a new high school, the board would have to wait until money was available to begin construction; build the school in lower-cost increments, with new phases added until the school was complete; or institute a 5-cent tax to raise money for construction.

Board members made a list of pros and cons for each proposal. For all of them, there were as many or more disadvantages as there were advantages.

For example, if the board were to approve construction of a new high school in increments, it would operate as a satellite of Scott County High School, rather than having its own identity, until construction was completed. The school system would incur costs to bus students back and forth for extracurricular activities and for lunch if the first phase didn't include a cafeteria.

School staff members indicated in a recent survey that they would like to see Scott County Middle School, which shares a campus with Scott County High School, become a ninth-grade facility, board members said. Repurposing the middle school would buy time to secure funding for a second high school, but it would require a new middle school to be built, which would cost about $30 million.

Instituting a nickel tax could help raise money quickly, but it would have to be done with public approval, board members said. Several board members were doubtful that fixed-income families and households with no enrolled students would go for a tax increase.

The school board solicited other ideas. Board member-elect Holbert inquired about soliciting corporate donations. Board members entertained the suggestion of starting a letter0writing campaign to elected state officials for more money.

No decision was made; rather, the meeting was the start of a lengthy conversation among board members, school staff and residents.

"The point of tonight was for us to have a dialogue, to have some open communication ...," Putty said. "That's what we need to do. It needs to be a work in progress."

Board members agreed that whatever proposal they choose, they need to be unified when they present it to the public.

"If we're not together, we can't sell it," Conway said.