“If you all can maintain what you did last year, we will be like a pig in a haystack,” Swain County Superintendent Bob Marr told county commissioners at a joint meeting between school officials and the county earlier this month.
The county gave $750,000 for operations and $145,000 for capital projects to the school this year.
School leaders warned county commissioners, however, that they have laundry list of needed projects piling up — including replacing the current high school with a brand new one — and expressed concerns over waning state funding.
“It seems like we have a dwindling flow of money that comes from the legislature each year,” said Charles McMahan, a school board member.
While school leaders indicated they could survive without increased funding from the county next fiscal year, Auxiliary Services Director Sam Pattillo presented a list of projects that it intends to tackle during the next 10 years.
Ranked among the highest priority are adding classrooms to both East Elementary and Swain County High School. The school’s building to-do list also includes expanding the high school’s cafeteria, building circular drives for buses to drop off students at the county’s two elementary schools and making Swain Middle School more energy efficient. School leaders gave the high-priority items a timeline for completion of one to three years from now.
But even among the high-priority projects, some outrank others in urgency.
“East Elementary School would probably be the most demanding,” Marr said.
Enrollment at East Elementary school has picked up and is expected to continue increasing. The school currently has 427 students, compared to 338 pupils during the 2006-07 school year.
East Elementary isn’t the only school in Swain County wanting for space, however. West Elementary faced similar problems, but the county spent about $1.8 million on eight new classrooms for the school in 2011. The middle school and high school continue to outgrow their facilities as well.
“The middle school seems to be really coming to more stress because of the space,” Pattillo said.
But before the middle school can get any relief, a completely new high school must come first. Somewhere in the next five to 10 years, school administrators hope to start construction on a new high school, which, once finished, would make way for the old high school to become the new middle school.
“Swain County Middle School has a lot of connections with what happens with the high school,” Pattillo said.
The largest obstacle the county faces to school improvements, though, is where to find the money.
“Nobody wants to fund schools,” said County Manager Kevin King.
The county placed a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot last November to help pay for school construction, but it was voted down.