Early voting is underway on whether to continue a one-percent sales tax to help fund education in Catoosa County.
The tax, known as the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST), must be approved by voters and lasts for five years each time. Catoosa voters have given ESPLOST the green light five times since 1997. Continuing ESPLOST means the county’s sales tax will remain at 7 percent.
Funds from the tax are used to provide classrooms and schools, safety and security initiatives, technology, new buses, and maintenance. ESPLOST VI, if approved, is projected to generate about $40 million during its five-year lifespan.
Early voting for ESPLOST VI continues through March 12: Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at the Freedom Center, 5238 Evitt St. in Ringgold, and the at West Side voting precinct, 3319 Lakeview Drive in Rossville (next to Westside Elementary School). On Thursday, March 11, the two voting sites will be open two hours extra, until 7 p.m. Election Day is Tuesday, March 16, when all 11 of the county’s polling sites will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The county Board of Education, with input from parents, employees, and community members, identified the following priorities for ESPLOST VI: technology, facility equitability, and a College and Career Academy. ESPLOST also funds routine maintenance of facilities, HVAC, roofing, painting, and new school buses.
Catoosa County Public Schools has provided personal technology devices for students since 2016. This 2021 ESPLOST would fund new iPads and Chromebooks for every student, teacher, and updated classroom technology.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School Performing Arts Theater: A performing arts theater would be built on the LFO campus. This theater would provide opportunities to showcase the talent of the LFO Warrior Band students, and with this new performance venue, students in drama would have more opportunities. The theaters at Ringgold and Heritage high schools provide a venue for performances and events for all students in the attendance zone, as well as community activities.
Boynton Elementary School renovation and expansion: With Graysville Elementary School’s new construction and revitalization, Boynton Elementary School is now the oldest elementary school in the district. This elementary school has the district’s largest enrollment, and this school zone is predicted for growth in residential development. A major construction and renovation is planned for this school. The first phase of the project would be included in this ESPLOST with a large classroom addition in the back of the school to accommodate growth. The second phase would include demolition of the existing building to move the school further back on the property, away from the road for safety, a new updated two-story building would be built, and bus and car lanes would be redesigned to improve traffic flow and safety.
College and Career Academy
Catoosa County Public Schools has collaborated with business and community leaders since 2017 to plan for a new College and Career Academy. Georgia College and Career Academies are specialized charter high schools that encourage high school students to dual-enroll in college classes to earn technical skills and academic credit to continue post-secondary education or begin a highly-skilled career when they graduate from high school.
The “From HERE to CAREER Academy” pathways align with workforce demands in the region and the governor’s High Demand Career Initiative. The Academy would open with the following career clusters:
♦ The School of Law & Justice and Emergency Management meets a critical need for emergency responders and law enforcement personnel in our region.
♦ The School of Nursing, Sports Medicine, and Therapeutic Services addresses a national shortage in the healthcare industry.
♦ The School of Information Technology and Cybersecurity would address software and IT needs in every career cluster in the Academy.
♦ The School of Architecture and Construction would expose students to construction management and skilled trades that are in high demand in the region including electricians and plumbers.
♦ The School of Welding and Machine Tool Technology would address a significant national and local need for welders and machinists.
♦ The School of Education would provide the opportunity for the school system to grow its own teachers. Currently 30% of Catoosa teachers can retire with 20 or more years of experience, so the Academy would create the talent pipeline needed for excellent teachers in the system.
♦ The School of Logistics, Distribution, and Supply Chain Management is very important in this region. Chattanooga ranks No. 1 of all metropolitan cities in freight movement, and a Thrive 55 study found that 80% of the nation’s freight travels through Chattanooga.
♦ The School of Industrial Systems Technology, Robotics, and Mechatronics would address the region’s deficit of skilled workers in engineering and production. The Mechatronics pathway launched in August 2019 at Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s Catoosa County Campus. In 2021, four students who began the pathway in 2019 will graduate with their high school diploma and six technical college certificates after two years in the program. These students will be skilled to begin a career and prepared if they choose to continue their college education.
In addition to technical skills training, employers overwhelmingly report that high school and college graduates are significantly deficient in employability and work ethics skills required to be successful employees. Professional skill development and work ethics will be a cornerstone for the From HERE to CAREER Academy.
The system was awarded a $3 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia to build this school. The grant would be combined with ESPLOST revenue to build a state-of-the-art College and Career Academy on the Benton Place Campus on Battlefield Parkway in Ringgold.