Finances have been the Achilles’ heel of the Columbus Municipal School District for quite some time, and the issue of money — specifically how to generate revenue — came up again during Monday night’s meeting.
The board voted 5-0 to sell the district’s Brandon Central Services Center at 2630 McArthur Drive. The building is the home of the district’s administrative staff, but board member Tommy Prude said it made sense for the staff to move to the newly renovated site of the former Hunt Intermediate School.
Hunt, located on 20th Street North across from Sim Scott Park, was built in 1953 as a high school. The school was later used to house fifth- and sixth-graders and was most recently used for sixth-graders during the transition phase to Columbus Middle School, which opened last January. Fifth grade was moved into the elementary schools.
Hunt underwent a $650,000 renovation last year, according to district Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Hughes.
Monday night’s action will allow the board to put “for sale” signs on the Brandon property and advertise the property with local real estate agents to gauge buyer interest.
Ten years ago, there was a lot of interest in the property, Interim Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell said. After looking at multiple ways to generate income, she said the board feels the timing is right to try to sell Brandon.
“We’re looking for significant revenue to put in the district coffers,” Liddell said.
The board passed a $43.5 million budget in August after weeks of negotiations, cuts and tweaks. At the time, district officials said the 2.9-mill tax increase they requested would not be enough to keep the district’s fund balance from decreasing. It would, however, allow time for them to review revenues and expenditures and come up with a viable cost-savings plan.
The district has declared a shortfall nine of the past 10 years, according to County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews.
If Brandon is sold, the district should consider using the additional revenue for things other than recurring expenses such as fuel and salaries, board member Bruce Hanson said.
“I would hope the board would … use it wisely to further the education of our kids,” he said.
In other matters, the board:
n Authorized the district to apply for a $500,000 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. A previous CCLC grant is being used to fund after-school programs at the district’s five elementary schools and Project Lace Up at Columbus Middle School.
n Swore in new board member Aubra Turner, who replaces Alma Turner. The two women are not related.
Alma Turner, who had served on the board since March 2004, resigned in November for health reasons.
Aubra Turner is a 1995 graduate of Columbus High School. She is married with two daughters, both of whom attend Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School.
The next board meeting is March 19 at 6 p.m. at the Columbus Municipal Complex. The March meeting deviates from the board’s usual day –the second Monday of each month — because of the city schools’ spring break.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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