Jacobs: Three new schools, no tax hike

Betty BeanKnox Scene

When Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs announces his first budget next Wednesday (9:30 a.m. May 1 at Central High School), he will propose construction of three new elementary schools with no accompanying tax increase.

It’s not magic. It’s math.

When fiscal year 2019 ends on June 30, Knox County’s bonded indebtedness will be approximately $645 million. By June 30, 2024, even after borrowing $60 million for three new schools, that figure will reach $648 million – just $3 million more than now.

And Knox County will have new buildings for Lonsdale and Adrian Burnett elementary schools and a new, yet-to-be-named elementary school in northwest Knox County.

On Wednesday night, the school board approved Superintendent Bob Thomas’ 2020 general fund budget. The request exceeds $500 million for the first time. And this number doesn’t include the capital improvement fund, which will pay for the new schools. Knox County Schools administrators have been working collaboratively with Jacobs’ staff on the capital budget.

Should Knox Countians be worried about the prospect of a $648 million debt load? Debt Capacity 

No, said Knox County’s senior finance director, Chris Caldwell.

“At the end of 2011, we were at $691 million,” he said, crediting former Mayor Tim Burchett’s aggressive debt-reduction efforts with paring that number down during his two terms in office.

“So, 2019 is truly Burchett’s budget, and represents a total of $48 million in debt reduction. We have slowly reduced our bonded indebtedness, but our overall budget continues to increase.”

The three new schools will be in the 2020 budget, at a combined cost of $60 million.

Lonsdale Elementary School was built in the mid-1930s and saw its last-built addition in 1956. It is overcrowded, but it has pressing health and safety issues – most recently carbon monoxide leaks – that have put it at the front of the line for replacement, which will cost $19 million. The new building is scheduled to open in August 2021.

Adrian Burnett is overcrowded, too. Built as a temporary structure by Superintendent Mildred Doyle in 1976, it has been relegated to the back of the budget line for decades, despite increasingly serious structural and safety problems. This year, it is second in line for a new building, also slated to cost $19 million. Like Lonsdale, the new Adrian Burnett school will be built on the existing campus. The completion date is 2022.

There will be $22 million in the budget for the yet-unnamed school in the northwest sector, probably in the Solway area, which will open in 2023. The additional cost is for site acquisition in an area of booming population growth.

Caldwell said that some $3 million of bonded indebtedness will be rolling off the books in 2021, offsetting costs of the building plan.

“Our five-year capital plan, even with those three schools, will only see a $5-7 million increase in total bonded debt,” Caldwell said.

And for Mayor Jacobs this math is positively magic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *