With the passage of Proposition S, Fulton Public Schools Superintendent Jacque Cowherd breathed a sigh of relief.
Voters chose Tuesday to allow the district to borrow $27.5 million, with no increase in the current debt service property tax levy, for sweeping facility improvements.
“I’ve been nervous for two months with this pandemic,” Cowherd said. “We targeted all of our materials and community visits to peak at the April election.”
The election was originally supposed to take place in April but was postponed due to COVID-19. Similarly, schools shut their doors and organizations stopped meeting in person. This foiled efforts to explain the proposition and reach out to voters.
“Quite frankly it scared me — what people would do and whether they’d go to vote,” Cowherd said.
Almost 17 percent of voters did turn out to vote on the issue, which passed with 72.21 percent of the vote, or 1,255 votes.
“It’s pretty amazing to get 72 percent of the vote,” Cowherd said. “I think it shows we have strong public support.”
Pending voter approval, the district had planned on starting small projects this summer. The delayed election has pushed back the timeline.
This month, the district will begin discussions with architects and issue the first $10 million in bonds with the hopes of having the first of the funds in late July. Next year, the district will release another $10 million, with the remaining $7.5 million saved for year three.
For taxpayers, the debt service levy is estimated to remain unchanged at $0.7612 per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property.
Repairs and upgrades are necessary because even the newest building in the district is decades old. Similarly, the district has grown. The district has three main goals — space for students, safety and security, and sustainable buildings.
In the coming years, Fulton students will see 12 new classrooms in a kindergarten center, eight middle school classrooms, a high school competition gym and additional parking.
Specific plans will have to be worked out with architects and engineers, but for the kindergarten center, the district intends to take kindergarten classes out of the elementary schools and move them to a new center set up alongside early childhood education — allowing for other grades to use the vacated rooms.
In addition to the new gym, the district hopes to renovate the pole barn.
For safety and security, the district’s checklist includes secure entrances, information technology security, traffic flow, sidewalks and bus access. Modern schools are built with front entrances where visitors can be identified before they are all the way inside and able to roam loose in the school — secure entrances will allow for that layer of protection.
Other priorities include electric, plumbing and roof upgrades and a project involving Allbritton Theater at Fulton High School.
All four candidates in Tuesday’s school board election were also in support of the bond issue.
“I very much thank the patrons for looking after our kids,” Cowherd said.