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Education SPLOST extension on Nov. 3 ballot

In 2010, Bartow County voters passed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax IV to support education. On Nov. 3, they will vote on SPLOST V, a five-year extension of the one-cent sales tax.

Taking effect in 2012 and expiring in 2017, SPLOST IV raised more than $61.7 million for Bartow County and Cartersville City schools — more than $48 million of that went to the county schools.

“To date we have received over $48 million, and it has all been spent on projects for which the community approved in the original referendum,” said Megan T. Brown, chief financial officer for Bartow County Schools. “These projects included the construction of new schools — Adairsville Middle and Cloverleaf and Emerson elementary; major renovations at Hamilton Crossing and White Elementary; Adairsville High School; and renovations at Bartow College and Career Academy. Other projects include construction [and] maintenance renovations to various schools in the district, a new band room at South Central Middle, extensive technology upgrades [and] purchases districtwide, and numerous bus purchases.”

Cartersville City Schools made paying off 2011 bonds a priority, which it is on schedule to do this fall. The $13,714,036 brought in by SPLOST IV also went to improving city school facilities.

“All schools in the system have benefited from SPLOST funds with renovations, modifications and/or additions,” Cartersville Superintendent Dr. Howard Hinesley said. “These include such things as additional classrooms, technology improvements, HVAC upgrades, new roofs, paving and security measures. The major renovation at Cartersville High School, addition of the multipurpose facility at the middle school and purchased land have all been funded with SPLOST funds.”

Although “it’s hard to determine” if the recession dealt a blow to SPLOST revenue, both systems are looking for increased revenue as growth continues to impact Bartow.

“Monthly SPLOST checks have been up and down since the SPLOST started,” Hinesley said. “One of the good things about SPLOST funds is that a significant portion comes from people traveling through our county and, therefore, does not impose a greater demand on the local tax structure.”

“We have seen a decrease as we look back as far as 2010 where we were collecting monthly receipts of much higher than we are now,” Brown said. “We are hoping the community will be supportive of the referendum, and as the economy shows signs of improvement, along with the new industry coming to our county, we will begin to see increased collections again.”

Adairsville Elementary tops the list of future projects for the county should voters pass SPLOST V.

”The construction of the new Adairsville Elementary School is [the] largest construction project we have proposed at this time, along with acquiring land for future schools if needed,” Brown said. “The bus fleet is very dated, so we are proposing the purchase of the number of buses to keep us in line with state regulations. Some of the other purchases are for extensive technology upgrades and construction of a new transportation facility to include bus bays for repairs and maintenance. Various renovations, repairs [and] maintenance of existing facilities will also be done as needed throughout the district, which also include removal of portable classrooms.”

Both systems called the SPLOST crucial to the education and future of the students and schools.

”With funding reductions over the past decade, SPLOST funds are absolutely vital to our system’s ability to improve the education our students receive,” said BCSS Spokesperson Cheree Dye. “The landscape of education is ever-evolving, and now with the necessary integration of technology, we need the SPLOST funding to ensure Bartow students are prepared to enter the workforce with 21st Century employment skills and be successful in the competitive job market. The intention of SPLOST funding is to give school systems the needed resources to purchase and build vital infrastructure to ensure our students’ safety and success.”

Funding from the state is not fully back to quality basic education levels, but increases have been made, said state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, who supports the SPLOST.

“While we are not yet back to full QBE funding, the state has increased funds to Bartow County every year I have been in the Senate. As a member of the Education Committee, I will continue to push for more funding as our economy improves in Georgia until we are back to full QBE funding,” he said. “Our funding for county students has increased from approximately $4,000 per student to $5,000 per student over the last three years, and I certainly hope we can continue this trend.

“I do support an E-SPLOST as I believe a sales tax is the most fair way to raise revenue. It has been used in Bartow County to make tremendous improvements in our school facilities. But I don’t want the misconception to be out there that the state is cutting more and more money each year as the opposite has been happening over the last four years.”

Data provided by Hufstetler showed the full-time equivalent, or cost per student, steadily increased for Bartow County Schools from $3,978.82 in Fiscal Year 2013 to $4,949.76 for FY2016, which began in July. Cartersville City Schools showed the same — increasing from $3,525.63 in 2013 to $4,549.51 this year.

Austerity cuts from the state still are in place but down from four years ago. In 2013, the state hit the county with almost $10.6 million in austerity cuts; that number has dropped each year since to $3.96 million in 2016. Cartersville’s austerity cuts went from $2.81 million in 2013 to $1.14 million in 2016.

The QBE referenced by Hufstetler remained little changed from 2013 to 2016. Bartow County’s QBE in 2013 was $67 million and is $67.2 million this year. Cartersville City Schools’ QBE was $19.4 million in 2013 and $19.7 million this year.

Community support has been integral to the school systems’ success during the downturn.

“The Bartow-Cartersville community has continually supported and invested in local education,” Dye said. “From businesses welcoming student interns to maintaining partnerships with our high schools and the Bartow County College and Career Academy, our community has proven that education is a necessary piece to not only the success of our individual students but also our community’s development as a whole.”

Hinesley echoed her statement.

“SPLOST funds are a major source of capital projects. Without SPLOST funding for these, projects would either have to be funded from instructional funds or not done at all,” he said. “Our school system has always benefited from strong community support. It’s what makes Cartersville a very special place.”

The general election will be Nov. 3, but voters can continue to vote through absentee ballots or advanced voting through Friday.

Advanced voting will continue through the next two weeks at the Elections Office, 1300 Joe Frank Harris Parkway SE, Cartersville, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This week voting will open at the Cartersville Civic Center and Adairsville, Emerson, Euharlee and Kingston city halls.