Voters weigh education sales tax with SPLOST

10:24 AM, Nov 1, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Pros/Cons of ESPLOST

Voters consider renewing the education SPLOST in several counties and cities.

 

ATLANTA -- Voters in two cities and six counties in Metro Atlanta will decide on Nov. 8 whether to renew a one-cent sales tax for school construction.

The education SPLOST is one-cent special purpose local option sales tax that was first approved by voters in Atlanta, Decatur and Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cherokee, Douglas and Henry counties in 1997.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, voters will be asked to continue that tax with SPLOST IV.

In DeKalb County, the renewal of ESPLOST would generate $475 million for dozens of capital projects, including new buildings, new roofs, air-conditioning systems, even smart boards in every classroom.

Most DeKalb County residents agree the schools need upgrades, but some are not convinced the ESPLOST money is going where it should. 

"We've got to do something to let the board know that we are not happy with the decisions they've made," said parent Cheryl Miller, who plans to vote no. "We don't want them to waste any more of our dollars. We don't believe in empty promises, and we need a way to wake up the rest of the county and let them know we need their help."

But there's an unusual twist to the ESPLOST debate in DeKalb. 

Supporters argue that if you're upset about infighting on the school board, you should support ESPLOST.

There's a new state law that will reduce the size of the board from nine to seven members next year as a way to make it more efficient, but only if voters says "yes" to ESPLOST IV.

"It requires that the SPLOST be in effect to reduce the board and make them all stand for election," said parent Marshall Orson, a member of the lobbying group Friends of DeKalb Education. 

"So voting for SPLOST is also a vote for a clean slate on the board?" asked 11Alive's Jennifer Leslie.

"Absolutely," Orson said. "It's a historic opportunity for us to replace the entire board."

In Fulton County, ESPLOST IV is expected to bring in $913 million over the next five years.

School leaders argue the sales tax gives property owners a break and broadens the burden by requiring everyone, including visitors, to help pay for schools.

Much of the money there would be used for new technology, including computers and high-speed networks. 

Atlanta Public Schools are looking for $513 million, part of which would build new schools in Buckhead and Midtown.

The vote comes at a time when the district is still reeling from the CRCT cheating scandal, but interim Superintendent Erroll Davis said the projects will go forward with either a SPLOST or a tax hike.

The Atlanta SPLOST, in addition to the upcoming transportation SPLOST AND an extra penny for city water and sewer upgrades would push the city to a 9 percent sales tax, the highest in the state.

Decatur City Schools will get money from SPLOST only if the measure passes in DeKalb County.

Decatur Schools could bring in as much as $18 million to renovate classrooms at Renfroe Middle School, add elementary classrooms and create a new Central Office Building.

Gwinnett County Schools would take in as much as $876 million with ESPLOST IV, with $17 million going to Buford City Schools.

Gwinnett, the state's largest school system, would use the money to build five new schools, make additions to eight schools and renovate one school.

School officials plan to use 50 percent of SPLOST dollars to fund technology upgrades.

In Cherokee County, ESPLOST IV is expected to generate $155 million within the five years.

The sales tax revenue would be used to replace Teasley and Dean Rusk Middle Schools, provide technology upgrades, build a new softball field and field house at Cherokee High School and buy new school buses for the system.

Douglas County Schools expect to raise $122 million from ESPLOST IV, half of which would be used to pay a portion of the principal and interest due on outstanding bonds from 2005, 2007 and 2010.

School officials said that will enable the local bond millage rate to be reduced over time to reduce property tax obligations.

The sales tax would also be used for textbooks, band instruments, technology upgrades and school renovations.

In Henry County, SPLOST IV could generate as much as $225 million over five years.

The project list includes the construction of three new schools, renovation and repairs at 44 schools, the purchase of buses and new technology.

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