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Gainesville school system gets serious about bonds
Meeting today focuses on informing board members about bonds needed to begin Fair Street project
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Gainesville City Schools board meeting

When: Noon today

Where: Gainesville City Schools office, 508 Oak St., Gainesville


The Gainesville City Schools board is getting together today not to teach but to be taught.

"Pretty much the only instrument a school system has for long-term funding is a general obligation bond," said Janet Allison, Gainesville City Schools chief financial officer. "A bond is a debt instrument, which in layman's terms you might call a loan."

It's the first time many of the board members have been part of the general obligation bond process.

"We're all beginners except for (Willie) Mitchell," Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "We're looking for just a general understanding of the responsibility the school system is incurring."

Allison said the reason the school board is getting a general obligation bond is because it does not yet have the cash to start projects funded by special local option sales tax money.

The system won't begin to receive tax collections from SPLOST IV until the fourth quarter of 2012.

The projects voters approved for SPLOST IV include the demolition and rebuilding of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, paying off debt on Gainesville Middle School and purchasing teaching tools such as textbooks.

Some of these projects, however, will need to begin before the SPLOST money is available, and therefore a general obligation bond is needed, Allison said.

The SPLOST money, instead of paying outright for the projects, will instead pay back the bonds.

"What we're trying to do is determine a timeline for the projects," Allison said.

The timeline depends on the cost of proposed projects and the projected amount of SPLOST collected over the five-year term.

The timeline also will include when the board's legal team will be able to get the bonds. Allison said the board plans to coordinate getting the bonds with the demolition of Fair Street.

Not all school systems go through a bond process — if they have enough cash stored up, they can pay for projects out of pocket, Allison said. The Gainesville school system is not at that point.

"We have to do this in order to start on Fair Street now," she said. "If we were to wait for the collections to come, we wouldn't be able to start that until fall 2012."

She said local voters approved in March for the school board to get up to $19 million in bonds, but that doesn't mean the board will get that much.

"You don't want to be too optimistic with that because you might get too much debt that you can't pay off," Allison said. "It's like buying a car. I've got to make sure that my income can support those payments, and the board has to make sure it collects enough to support bond payments."