Bartow County voters currently taking advantage of early voting, as well as those who go to the polls July 20 to take part in the primary election, can choose whether to support the extension of a 1-percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for schools. If approved, the new SPLOST would begin in July 2012 and last for five years; the current SPLOST, also five-years long, took effect in July 2007.
For Bartow County Schools, a penny tax on every dollar spent locally continues to be needed to get two new schools built to replace the aging Cloverleaf and Emerson elementaries, as well as start work on two other schools.
"We're in desperate need to get kids in some decent facilities in Cloverleaf and Emerson, as well as in the Adairsville community at the middle school and at the elementary school there," Bartow Superintendent John Harper said.
Cloverleaf and Emerson are at the top of the school construction list, Harper said, with the hope of completing both in time for the 2012-2013 school year. The new schools likely would be similar in design to Pine Log and Clear Creek elementaries, which were built in recent years.
"Our commitment hopefully when the SPLOST passes July 20 that we will, before the year is out, sell some bonds and begin the construction of two elementary schools -- that's going to be very important and vital for our community, so we look for the community to say yes on that initiative for us," Harper said.
In addition to school construction, Bartow leaders aim to use SPLOST funds to acquire land for future schools, purchase instructional and administrative technology improvements, refurbish existing school facilities, pay off bond debt and more.
Paying off bond debt on its high school will be one objective for Cartersville City Schools under an extension of SPLOST. Cartersville Superintendent Howard Hinesley said district officials also hope to make significant improvements to its school sites, such as roof and HVAC system replacement and repairs, upgrades to Cartersville High's marching band facility and revamping of the traffic pattern around Cartersville Primary and Elementary to relieve traffic congestion on Old Mill Road.
Technology would be upgraded at all four city schools using SPLOST funds, while aging school classroom furniture would see replacement.
A fine arts facility at Cartersville Middle is slated to see construction under a new SPLOST. Hinesley said the design work for such a center will be completed this year.
Another SPLOST project would see Cartersville Primary's electrical capacity expanded.
"We have maxed out the electrical capacity to the point to where with the new technology coming, like smartboards and [other] types of technology available to put in classrooms, we do not have the electrical capacity to do that," Hinesley said. "So it's going to require a revamping of the electrical system, wiring and capability, in order to put in smartboards and upgrade our computers, and that kind of thing.
"At this point, we still don't anticipate, based on our [enrollment] growth, that we're going to need a new school during that period, so most of ours will be paying off debt and sustaining the current facilities to give them as much life as possible, both in appearance and functionality," he added.
Officials with both systems say failure to pass the SPLOST initiative would see the burden of financing needed projects passed onto county residents instead of everyone who spends money in the community.
"[SPLOST] would avoid us having to raise property taxes to pay off the bond debt for the high school," Hinesley said. "The largest portion of our money will be to pay off that bond debt."
"The choice that our community is going to make is do we pay for it through a sales tax and let everybody share in paying for it, as we have been doing, or do we go to the homeowner and say, 'We're going to have to raise your taxes,'" Bartow Assistant Superintendent Ben Desper said.
"Certainly the SPLOST is a fair way to get folks who work in our community but don't live here, folks who travel through our community and are buying things, folks who don't own property but live here -- that is a way to continue to help fund our schools without increasing the property owners' taxes. I think that's important for all of us who live here."
For those with students in Bartow County Schools, passage of the SPLOST could mean the difference between new schools now, or much later.
"The downside of this is if the initiative doesn't pass, the millage rate is going to go up in both the city and county, and we'll be in Cloverleaf and Emerson for another 10 years or more," Harper said. "And that's just really unacceptable for the community."