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School board approves SPLOST

By Ed Brock

The Clayton County Board of Education unanimously voted to hold a special election in September on extending the current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

If approved by the voters in the Sept. 21 referendum, the 2005-2009 school SPLOST would raise not more than $269,564,694, according to the resolution passed by the board Monday night.

That money would go to the construction of new schools, the addition of classrooms to existing schools and renovations of current facilities.

"We need that," Board Member Allen Johnson said. "We've got to put the kids somewhere and we don't want to raise the millage rate to do it. This is the best way to go."

According to the resolution, the money from the 1-percent sales tax would be used to buy property for, build and equip six new schools, adding some 416 classrooms to the system. The new schools would include three new grade schools, two new middle schools and one new high school.

The renovations and modifications could add 233 new classrooms to more than 50 existing schools. Other items that would be funded by the SPLOST include the purchase of school buses, acquisition and installation of new computer systems and renovations, modifications and/or additions to school property such as the North Jonesboro Center, Morrow Annex, Worktec and the Performing Arts Center.

Some of the money would also be used for the construction and equipping a planned Aquatic Center.

Clayton County Superintendent Barbara Pulliam called the vote a good decision.

"The need for more schools, the need for more classrooms for our students and the possibility that we can finally get rid of portable classrooms, that's very important," Pulliam said. "We're going to need the space."

Though it will cost up to $85,000 to hold the vote on the referendum before the next election, the board seemed to follow the advice of its attorney Gary Sams who pointed out that to wait could cost them even more.

"We would lose $8 million to save $80,000," Sams said. "It's just ridiculous."

A SPLOST must be passed 80 days prior to the start of collections, Brian Miller, the school system's director of facility auxiliary services and purchasing, said previously and holding off on the vote until November could cause a gap in the collection of revenue.

Previously Artansa Snell, the chairwoman of the Clayton County NAACP education committee, raised questions about the cost of the special election.

"Why would we have an election for one question. I just don't know if that is fiscally responsible of the board," Snell said.

Snell listed teachers, supplies and other items the money could fund instead.

Doug Craig, a member of the Clayton County Libertarian Party, said previously that his party will oppose the tax and that a special election only makes the matter worse.

"Usually the money used by the government is used so inefficiently that it is better kept in the home," Craig said. "(The special election) is just another inefficient use of taxpayer money."

Craig also said he thinks holding the vote in September is a way to ensure low voter turnout.

Pulliam said the special election would keep the mechanism in place to continue collecting revenue and called the referendum a "good investment in education."

She hopes that the people will vote in favor of extending the SPLOST.

"I know I will go out and talk to anybody who wants to know what we're doing, why we're doing it and what will happen if we don't do it," Pulliam said.