A row of large binders lines one of the bottom bookshelves in Hall County Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett’s office.
“You see these big books here?” he asked, gesturing to the row. “That’s all the paperwork for a bond. It’s amazing.”
The school district anticipates paying off all long-term debt this year, leaving only the short-term bond debt voted on during the most recent education local option sales tax referendum.
The debt in question has been in rotation since 1986 and the early 1990s; since 1986, $59.4 million has been issued.
The district has one final payment of slightly more than $3.2 million to pay in November.
Bonds are used to fund projects in advance; for example, if a school system knows it will use approved tax money for a specific project, like the construction of a school, officials can begin the project by using bond money instead of waiting for taxes to roll in.
When they do receive the tax funding, it’s then used to pay back the bond.
“Over the years, we had more than one of those,” Lovett said. “We had some in the late ‘60s, and then we issued more bonds in 1986 and the 1990s.”
Those bonds used to be paid for via property tax collections; however, sales tax proceeds have been used to pay off the bonds since 1997.
“I would say we need to have a note burning, but now they don’t seem to mail them back to you anymore,” Lovett joked at the Monday work session of the board. “Then we’ll only owe the bonds that we have issued through the ELOST funds.”
In an ELOST referendum, the county district is able to use up to $25 million in bonds; so far, the district has asked for $19 million.
Lovett said he expects those monies to be paid back by November 2017.
The ELOST is a 1 percent sales and use tax with proceeds used to fund capital outlay projects like new buildings, renovations, equipment and land.
For example, a recently approved request would use the sales tax money to redo the entrances at White Sulphur and Lyman Hall elementary schools.
Gainesville City Schools also has taken on bond debt via ELOST, for a total of $18.6 million. Chief Financial Officer Janet Allison said she expects that to be paid off by February 2018.
“We obtained bond funding in November 2011,” she said, ticking down the timeline. “Demolition on the old Fair Street started March 2012. (ELOST) IV tax collections began in (fall 2012).”
Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said it’s “unheard of” for a similarly sized school district to be debt-free.
“With 27,000 students and growing the way that we are, and no long-term debt, what a day for celebration that will be,” he said.
“It’s nice to have it paid off,” Lovett added. “It’s a psychological thing, like paying your mortgage off.”