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Schools hope to extend SPLOST

By Greg Gelpi

With the current school SPLOST expiring in December 2004, the Clayton County Public School system has begun efforts to extend the 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax.

The Clayton County Board of Education authorized John Ramage, the assistant superintendent of facilities, construction and purchasing to develop a prioritized list of departmental needs and construction projects.

"They gave me direction on where to go for preparation for the next SPLOST," Ramage said.

He presented two proposals to the board, one containing a wish list of departmental items and the other a bare list of needs.

The option the board chose, about half the price of the other option, would fund the construction of three new elementary schools, two new middle schools and one new high school, as well as the addition of 251 classrooms to existing schools.

The projected $264 million in collections would also fund $114 million in departmental requests, including about $57 million in school renovations and $37 million for the technology department.

Ramage said all of the schools in the system were renovated using funding from the current SPLOST, but renovations are a continuing process. Some renovations, such as roofs, are a recurring cost.

"We renovated all of our facilities, but in no way do I want you to think we've done all that needs to be done to all of them," Ramage said.

Building more classrooms is a high priority with the surging numbers of Clayton County school students. The system has about 52,000 students this year and is expected to have 55,800 students for the 2007-2008 school year. According to the state, the school system will have increased by more than 12,000 students from 1998 to 2008.

To accommodate the growing numbers, the system needs to build 649 classrooms. The system already spends $3.5 million to $4 million a year to lease temporary classroom buildings, including 24 at Brown Elementary alone. The system has 598 temporary buildings, 80 of which are used while classrooms are being renovated.

The current SPLOST is $19 million behind in collections and about $25 million under budget, Ramage said. Between lower construction prices and funding from the state's capital outlay, all budgeted projects should be completed.

The school system's first SPLOST, a three-year tax, expired early when the booming economy drove collections and allowed the school system to collect its allotted amount before expiring.

The current five-year SPLOST will probably go to full term since it isn't projected to collect its full amount, he said. The system projected collections based on the economy, which continued to boom, at the time the tax was passed.

With the economy picking back up, the system is using similar projections to calculate tax collections, projecting that the economy will grow at 5 percent.

Ramage must firm up his estimates and prioritize the list of projects before returning to the board. In February, the board will consider whether or not to ask the public to approve the tax extension, Ramage said. Clayton County residents would vote on the 1-cent tax in the fall, prior to the current SPLOST expiring.