In the past, Calhoun and Gordon County school officials have relied on an education, special purpose local-options sales tax to build new schools and other million-dollar projects; now, they are hoping to continue the one-cent sales tax for the ESPLOST IV project.
ESPLOST IV, which will be voted on by Calhoun and Gordon County residents Nov. 2. If approved, the one-penny sales tax would bring in a projected $59 million; collections would begin in July 2012 and end by June 2017.
66.6 percent of the money would go toward improvements in the Gordon County School system and 33.4 percent would aid the Calhoun City School system.
The five-year-long ESPLOST plan has a few major projects, including a $33 million Calhoun High School and a new Calhoun Middle School complex combined together for the city school system and a $17 million new middle school for the county school.
“Our students deserve a facility that is safe and conducive to learning. New lighting and advanced technology are needed to provide the best education possible,” said Calhoun Superintendent Michele Taylor.
Gordon County Schools Superintendent Bill McCown echoes the same sentiments and added that he wanted to provide updated facilities to ensure a safe learning environment for students.
Calhoun City Schools ESPLOST projects:
The biggest item on the City’s education SPLOST list is a $33 million middle and high school complex, a two-story high school building that would be built in two main phases over a three-year period.
Phase I: The main two-story high school building would be built on the existing track area. Upon completion, high school students would then move into the new building; meantime, middle school students would then relocate to the older high school buildings.
Phase II: This will consist of razing the middle school older building wings dating back to 1954. This would cost approximately $650,000 out of the $33 million.
The overall plan for the two schools considers a shared kitchen and two media centers, officials stated.
“We do not wish for our sixth grade students to be in the same building as our high school students, so two cafeteria areas will definitely be in the plan,” said Superintendent Michele Taylor.
The construction of the new Calhoun High School and Middle School will be financed by $15.7 million in advanced funding from the State of Georgia, Taylor said.
The other projects include $1.6 million in improvements at Calhoun Primary and Elementary School and $400,000 would spent on purchasing additional school buses.
Amy Atkinson, chairwoman of the Calhoun Board of Education, doesn’t want voters to underestimate the importance of an updated school facility.
“The children of Calhoun and Gordon County deserve up-dated educational facilities,” Atkinson said, “many of our students will stay in Gordon County after graduating high school or college and open businesses or join our workforce. We want them to be well prepared with the best opportunities possible.”
Gordon County Schools ESPLOST projects:
Gordon County school officials have said one of their main needs is a new middle school and this project is first on their priority list.
Board members have allotted $5 million for it out of the $64,280,000 request list, which exceeds their $39 million proposal.
It is currently being called Northside Middle School and it would be located in the Red Bud area.
Next, renovation and modifications at Fairmount Elementary School would be next.
“The school has not had major renovations in the past 12 years,” said Susan Cole, spokesperson for the county school system.
Technology upgrades and replacements throughout the system, a career academy, auditoriums, air conditioning for gyms, new gyms and buses make up $14.2 million of the re-quest.
The priority list ends with a new elementary school for $14 million and renovations to several schools for $26.5 million.
William Tyner, chairman of the Gordon County Board of Education, said that there are many projects that are necessary whether or not the one-cents SPLOST passes or not.
“We have projects that are going to have to be taken care of,” Tyner said. “That doesn’t stop the projects, the roofs that need replaced, waterlines and outdated stuff.”
Too much taxing?
Some school officials worry the proposal could be a tough sell for some residents.
In an economy where every penny matters, Tyner said he worries that voters will not approve the education SPLOST IV because they are tired of being taxed. The current ESPLOST III expires in June 2010.
Jimmy Phillips, a Calhoun resident, supports the proposal.
“You can’t refuse to build a classroom if you need it,” Phil-lips said. “Sometimes old facilities need renovated and it’s probably the best penny that we could spend.”
“Thinking about a one penny sales tax or a property tax increase, this is a much better way to pay for it,” he added.
Overview of ESPLOST:
During the summer months, both school districts approved separate outlines of the education SPLOST (priority) projects list by passing what is known as an ESLOST referendum list.
A referendum describes a list of school projects and how the tax will be used if the education SPLOST passes with voters on Nov. 2.
In both referendum lists, it describes an agreement of how the monies will be split between Gordon County School district and Calhoun City Schools. This is based on the number of students.
Based on state Full Time Equivalent enrollment numbers for Gordon and Calhoun from March 2010:
Gordon County system had 6,453 students, making up 66.6 percent of the ESPLOST designation, and the school system is eligible for up to $39 million.
Calhoun City had 3,237 students, making up 33.4 percent of the ESPLOST designation, and the school system is eligible for up to $19 million.
The education SPLOST is collected on items subject to state sales taxes within the county and is generally levied for five years.
School officials have said funding the improvements through SPLOST is more equitable than raising the millage rate.
SPLOST is a levied tax on both county residents and any-one buying items in the county. School officials point out that the Prime Outlets in Calhoun helps bring in some of the money.
Approximately 40 percent of the revenue SPLOST generates comes from people who purchase services and products while visiting Gordon County, according to the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce business committee’s study.
According to Finance director Don Hood of Calhoun City Schools, the previous Calhoun City ESPLOST has brought in just under $9 million as of August 2010, which the ESPLOST will end in June 2012.
Gordon County has collected $16.6 million as of August in its current five-year ESPLOST, which ends in June 2012, said Finance director Gail Farriba of Gordon County Schools.
When asked if residents will see an increase in property tax if an ESPLOST doesn’t pass, both schools said it would be likely.
Overview of voting ballot:
Advance voting is already underway and many early voters have already poured in to vote on education SPLOST, said Shea Hicks, chairman of the county Board of Elections and voter registration.
Hicks pointed out that ESPLOST would appear differently on the ballots for City of Calhoun voters than for county voters.
For city of Calhoun voters, a question about the general obligation school bond election will appear on the ballot following the ESPLOST question.
“Calhoun City Schools operates under the charter of the City of Calhoun,” Hicks explained. “As outlined in the charter, the City of Calhoun issues bonds on behalf of the city schools; therefore, requiring voters to approve this in con-junction with a SPLOST referendum so that the schools can begin projects immediately.”