Polk County Board of Education, September 2017 meeting

Board of Education members Bernard Morgan and chair Tommy Sanders listen as Superintendent Laurie Atkins explains what the current process is for the proposed extension of the education-only SPLOST. 

Kevin Myrick

The superintendent and BOE are making sure everything is done right for an education sales tax extension.

As voters get ready to head to the polls in November, one county-wide issue is back on the ballot to provide money for the Polk School District to use in improvements and maintenance spending.

The Board of Education in August sought to get the 2017 Education-only Special Purpose, Local Option Sales Tax fund on the ballot for the November municipal election, and though they are asking for a continuation of the SPLOST fund, this administration plans to move more cautiously in the future.

School board members got an update about where the process stands from Superintendent Laurie Atkins during the September board meeting with one goal in mind: to ensure that everything is being done right the first time and avoid any future spending issues.

“We’re making sure that everything is on the up and up, so we can go in with confidence that it doesn’t put the district at a strain to complete these projects,” Atkins said. “We’re working hard on ensuring that we have a proper timeline and schedule for everything should the SPLOST pass and go through.”

Atkins said the idea is to avoid the situation that Polk School District currently finds itself in: construction has been completed on all of the 2014 SPLOST projects, including the recently opened Polk County College and Career Academy campus at Cedartown High School.

However it came with a cost of spending a bit more than the school board would have liked out of the general fund balance, and this year required the approval and use of a Tax Anticipation Note totaling $1.6 million.

Learning from this past SPLOST, Atkins said both she and central office administrators and the school board have turned to Education Planners once again to provide their consulting work on all the numbers.

She said they are looking at how the SPLOST has worked in the past, and what revenue has been brought in along with other figures involved in the process like a budget of how much construction will cost well ahead of any construction beginning. Especially since this time around they’ll be asking for a maximum of $25 million from the 1-cent sales tax in the continuation of SPLOST collection for the Polk School District.

And they won’t be moving forward with any construction projects immediately.

“If the SPLOST passes, we’ll still have to seek out architects to provide the plans and bid out the project, so it’ll be some time before we start any work,” Atkins said.

The school district will also have to go through bond sales again, using most of the collections as part of sales tax paid at the counter to in order to make the payments back to investors who bought the bonds.

The SPLOST being proposed for this ballot is the same one put forth by two past superintendents, William Hunter when he initially presented the plan in October 2016, and Darrell Wetherington when he sought to get the board to approve the cost of having the election earlier this year.

Money being sought for the SPLOST includes money for the Fine Arts improvements and building renovations at Cedartown High School and a new Agriculture and Animal Sciences Education building at Rockmart High School, along with a number of maintenance and improvement projects at the 9 other schools in the district.

Plans include upgrade heating and air conditioning at Cedartown Middle School, Cherokee Elementary and Rockmart High School,, new track surfaces for both high schools, a new football press box, concession stand and gym divider wall at Rockmart High School, a restroom and concession facility at Rockmart Middle School, and renovations to the board annex building next to the Central Office, which now houses internet technology equipment and offices. The plans also call for looking at playground equipment upgrades at local elementary schools as well.

“These improvements have been a long time coming, and the community, kids, parents and teachers have worked hard in those programs, but haven’t had the available space to have full capabilities for what the program can offer,” Atkins said.

Education Planners and Atkins will be providing a full presentation to the community during the upcoming combined meeting for the Board of Education on this coming Tuesday night, Oct. 3, starting at 6 p.m.

Atkins said that along with the presentation at the upcoming meeting, there’s also an invitation-only Community Partners meeting being held with those who are instrumental in the education process, from volunteers in local churches and organizations to business partners who have previously provided donations to discuss the plans for the future.

Because the upcoming SPLOST is only a continuation of the 1-cent sales tax taken locally for the Board of Education, it will not increase the sales tax any if voters approve the measure on the ballot on Nov. 7.

Voters previously approved the extension of the SPLOST for education purposes in 2014, which saw the completion of the College and Career Academy, new classrooms at Eastside Elementary, a new field house and gym entrance at Rockmart High School, and renovations of the College and Career Academy wing at Rockmart High School.