Committee backs new SPLOST

By Greg Gelpi

With more than a year left on the current school SPLOST, a committee of the Clayton County Board of Education endorsed reviewing plans to ask for another five-year tax.

The Facility/Purchasing/Transportation Committee recommended sending the plan for the special purpose local option sales tax to the full board.

The current SPLOST expires in December 2004, but John Ramage, assistant superintendent of facilities, construction and purchasing, mapped a campaign for the board to have an election for the new SPLOST in September 2004 so that there would be no gap in collecting funds.

The system must build 649 classrooms, by either adding classrooms or building new schools, to keep up with the growing student population, Ramage told the committee. By the 2007-2008 school year, the county is predicted to have 55,800 students, up from the current figure of about 52,000.

The committee agreed to recommend to the board that a SPLOST retreat be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 to discuss the current SPLOST and the proposed SPLOST.

The current SPLOST is about $19 million short of predictions as of August and is estimated to be about $37 million short when the tax expires in December 2004 because of the weak economy, Ramage said.

"It looks like the economy is holding its own or maybe getting a little better," he said. "We've been lucky because the recession has been kind of a two-edged sword."

He explained that, although the system has collected less revenue on the 1-cent sales tax, projects have fallen under budget because contractors are charging less. The contractors must stay competitive by reducing bids in the tight economy.

The system is about $25 million under budget for its projects, Ramage said. Combined with the projected shortfall, the system needs about $12 million to complete projects.

The committee recommended using $30 million in capital outlay funds to cover the $12 million and for purchasing new school sites and school construction.

The current SPLOST has helped build five schools and funded renovations at all county schools.

In other business, the committee reviewed a request for the Clayton County Water Authority to tie into the school's sewage system at James A. Jackson Elementary School.

Board member Connie Kitchens, noting that the school system is on probation for not following its own policies, cautioned the committee to pick one policy and follow it. The board had previously handled sewage easements, and Kitchens wants the board to have a clear policy on when to allow easements and under what conditions.

"We are setting up for not following our own practices," Kitchens said. "I don't want this person to pay $10,000, another to pay nothing and one to pay $600."

The system's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, placed the system on probation in May for failing to follow its own policies.

The committee also discussed purchasing school buses, redrawing boundaries for schools and a resolution for the board to build the Open Campus/Career Academy Facility, a nontraditional high school on the existing grounds of Jonesboro Middle School.

The full board will meet to discuss the items brought to the committee at its next regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 1. The board's next meeting is set for Friday to interview applicants for superintendent.