School board, city council will meet with growth impact committee today to review findings

The Madison City Council, Madison Borad of Education and the Madison Growth Impact Committee will participate in a joint worksession on Thursday, March 22, to review findings of the committee. It will begin at 7 p.m. in the school district’s central office at 211 Celtic Drive in Madison.

In December the Committee presented new data to the Madison City Council indicating when the school system could overcrowd if action is not taken.

Mike Potter and Terri Johnson, co-chairs of the committee assembled data from Madison City Schools and consultants that indicates the middle schools will reach capacity by 2022, and the high schools by 2024. As it stands, leaders say the school system grows by 150 children per year.

“We know the system is going to break in 2022,” said Potter, “and we know it’s really going to break in 2024. If we don’t have a new middle school and a new high school in that time frame, we are going to start seeing degradation in our Madison City Schools because they are going to be too overcrowded.”

Johnson added that the school system must move quickly because any possible new buildings would require time for the city and school district to plan and raise money.

The school system has already taken some action to keep the growth problem at bay and buy some time:

• Passing a resolution to advocate for no new residential annexation in Limestone County
• Settling the Limestone County tax dispute to start receiving some sales and property tax dollars from Limestone County residents who attend Madison schools
• Constructing 16 new classrooms at Liberty Middle School
• Moving 6th grade to middle schools in the upcoming school year (2018-2019)
• Earning votes to renew current district and countywide ad valorem taxes

But Superintendent Robby Parker says the incoming tax dollars will not be enough to build new schools or extra space.

“That’s money for operations,” said Parker, “but that doesn’t build new buildings. And so that’s where we are right now– we are going to need new buildings.”

The other solutions have bought time, but were not permanent solutions.

During his State of the Schools address in January Parker outlined his path forward during a time of explosive growth within the community.

Parker said his plan involves building several new schools. He thinks it should happen in several steps:
• Transforming West Madison Elementary from an elementary school to a Pre-K center
• Building a new elementary school to be finished in 2021 with a 900-student capacity and $34 million price tag
• Building a new middle school to be finished in 2023 with a 1200-student capacity, a performing arts center, and a $61 million price tag
• Adding on to existing high schools or building a new high school

Parker spoke a lot about his plans for Pre-K in the school system. He said he wants to make it available to every student.

Currently, there is a lottery system. But he recognizes the benefits of Pre-K for a child and said they need space to give all children better futures through it. He said a new Pre-K center where the current West Madison is located will supplement the program at Rainbow Elementary and completely fill West Madison.

For the high schools, Parker said there is a choice. Adding on to James Clemens High and Bob Jones High would cost an estimated $18 million and add a 500-student capacity to each school. This would need to be done by 2026. Parker said building a new high school could cost $120 million.

Parker said Madison City Schools maxed-out its ability to borrow money to pay for schools. They can not finance new buildings with a bond issue until 2034, Parker explained. That leaves other options on the table, including increasing taxes.

He said, “Nothing is off the table. That is certainly an option right now. We can’t go back to the bond market until 2034. I’m not trying to be coy. I can tell you this: the numbers showed that we are going to far outgrow our capacity. We know we can not borrow any more money to build schools, so we have got to find an alternate income source.”