Board of Education looks to get 1 cent sales tax back on ballot for building, maintenance program - : Local

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Board of Education looks to get 1 cent sales tax back on ballot for building, maintenance program

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Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2016 1:30 pm

Voters will be heading to the polls in November to decide on the next school board member, but before that business was concluded the current board decided it was time to get one more item off their list before a new board is sat in January.

Following a presentation by Superintendent William Hunter, the Board of Education voted unanimously on a referendum resolution to get the 1-cent Education-only Special Purpose, Local Option Sales tax back on the ballot in 2017.

Hunter said following the meeting the intention is to have voters take up the issue during the March primary for off-year local elections being held next spring, with a date to be announced.

The E-SPLOST seeks $25 million in collection starting at the end of 2017. The previous SPLOST was also for $25 million over a five year period.

"We're very appreciative that the people of Polk County extended the one cent sales tax that we've been able to use to complete the building program," Hunter said.

Among those items Hunter said were done during the past years of the 2014 SPLOST included Cedartown High School's gymnasium upgrades, the new field house and gym entrance at Rockmart High School, it's College and Career Academy wing remodel as well, and a building program at Eastside Elementary. Hunter said all of those items are done and being used by students now, with only one major project left on the list to be completed: the College and Career Academy building, which is scheduled to come online in the spring semester of 2017.

Hunter also pointed to the technology program, including the iPad initiative and the infrastructure needed to improve internet speeds within schools, were partially paid for by SPLOST money.

The latest list of building programs is now being proposed for the 1-cent sales tax extension on the March primary ballot, which includes numerous upgrades around the district.

"There's one difference: we decided as a group, as a board, not to build the four classroom addition at Westside Elementary," Hunter said. "That was decided just because of the sheer volume of the number of kids on that site. We have Cedartown High School there and we've got Westside there. Westside Elementary School does not need to grow. Probably someday, and it would be my recommendation, that Westside be relocated when it's time to relocate that school. Because I think Cedartown High School needs all of that available space for cars and kids."

Hunter did add that all of the money that would have been used for four new classrooms at Westside Elementary will go back into the SPLOST fund balance to be used on projects when it is returned from the state coffers.

All told, the school board seeks to spend when the accounting is done on the building program from it's conception with the 2014 SPLOST to when it's done some $31,177,381.

Hunter said that through donations, grants, state money, bond sales, the SPLOST and using general funds, the school board will still have money leftover following the $32,099,000 collected overall.

"Over a period when we completely collect the SPLOST money in this cycle, it will pay for every project."

First and the biggest priority Hunter presented was the other half of proposed improvements at Cedartown High School following the completion of the College and Career Academy wing.

That includes upgrades to the media center, cafeteria and administrative wing that would allow for the creation of more classroom space, along with new band facilities, an art room renovated from the old band and drama spaces, and a new theater-style drama room with a full stage, lighting and curtains.

A price tag of $6.6 million is set for the second half of upgrades at Cedartown High School overall, but $1 million will come from the TRIPP Foundation.

Hunter proposed an increase in the theater capacity to 350 seats, which would allow entire classes to sit together at once in a single space to hear messages from the administration or attend educational assemblies.

"It started as a 150 seat drama room, and the TRIPP Foundation was so gracious, they came in and said 'let's put a full size stage in there and let's go to 250 seats,'" Hunter said. "Well we have more than 300 kids in each class, and we'd love to have a theater over there where we could house the seniors if you want to sit down with them."

Included in the latest round of building projects are also plans to upgrade heating and air conditioning at Cedartown Middle School, Cherokee Elementary and Rockmart High School, a new animal science facility at 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.

Some of the projects will be funded mainly through state help, such as all the heating and air conditioning projects. Though Polk School District would be required to put up matching funds, the state will help with these projects to the tune of millions of dollars, Hunter said.

At Cedartown Middle School alone, the state will put up $900,000 to help upgrade their heating and air systems, and the school board will add an additional $117,000 for the repairs, or 13 percent.

Hunter explained this was part of a program the state allowed school systems to utilize after a 10 year gap between the last repairs or modifications made to a heating and air system.

"This plan I've presented tonight would take us through the next 7 or 8 to 10 years," Hunter said during Tuesday's board meeting.

Superintendent in waiting Darrell Wetherington said teacher input also went into another part of the plan for several other items within the elementary school system, such as upgraded parking lot lighting, security cameras, playground equipment and even an expanded cafeteria space at Northside Elementary.

"Most of the elementary schools communicated that the playground equipment was outdated and unsafe," Wetherington said.

Hunter said that "these are the kinds of things that when you start planning a building, these are the first things you cut out, like playground equipment and security cameras, and lighting and so on."

He added that growth will likely be needed at elementary schools in the system in order to accommodate the needs of teachers and students, but added that "as we grow, we'll earn additional entitlement money which isn't figured in here. We're basing this off of what we've got now."

The overall cost of what was presented to the board for just the current spending plan for construction and repairs would total just $11 million, but he said that bond proceeds and state money is estimated at $20 million.

"I think that will leave some money there so that if we needed to add some classrooms at an elementary school here or there, that money would be available in the short term to complete that work," Hunter said.

He did say there are funding issues going forward, including a new formula to determine how much money schools get within the state coming into effect in 2017.

"All the projections I've seen treat Polk County pretty well," he said. "But SPLOST projections are down throughout Georgia, and I think they're down because of online purchasing."

Hunter added that if the one-cent sales tax is allowed to continue, it will allow the board to continue to lower property taxes assessed on Polk County home and landowners.

Board member Tommy Sanders did question whether money that was used out of the general fund on projects already totaling $2.4 million will be replaced by the SPLOST fund before the vote.

"I was told that we were going to do that," he said.

Hunter said that "while we're waiting on SPLOST funds to come in, the school district has the authority to use general fund balance to make payments, and then when the proceeds from SPLOST come in they can replace what was used out of the general fund balance."

He added that the plan was still to move those funds back over, though did not provide a time frame to do so.

"We just need to make sure that we keep up with that," Sanders said.

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