SPLOST special election held today

By Greg Gelpi

For columns on voting yes and voting no, look for guest writers on today's editorial page.

Voters will consider extending a 1-cent school sales tax during a special election today.

The school system's Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax would construct new schools, add classrooms and fund other capital projects in the system.

Brian Miller, the school system's director of facility auxiliary services and purchasing, called the situation "dire" because of the growth of the school system.

It would be up to Superintendent Barbara Pulliam on how to proceed if the SPLOST doesn't pass, but Miller said the system could consider holding a bond referendum, rezoning schools or adding more trailers as temporary classrooms.

"Those are the only things that come to mind, but we don't want to think about that," he said. "Funding would have to come from somewhere."

According to Assistant Superintendent Sam King, enrollment figures have increased by 5,409 students since the 2000 - 2001 school year. As of Sept. 10, the system had 51,617 students and is projected to continue to grow.

"We would have to house those children at some capacity," Miller said. "At today's estimate, we should be out of the trailers at the end of (the proposed SPLOST extension)."

The school system has 442 trailers that serve as classrooms because of the growth of the county, Director of Maintenance James Conard said. Another 107 trailers hold classes while classrooms are worked on. For the first time, the school system sent trailers back because of the addition of classrooms. The system sent 65 trailers back with the addition and completion of construction projects.

The SPLOST extension would fund the construction of three elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school. Between the new schools and additions to existing schools, the system would add 649 classrooms. The News Daily incorrectly reported the number of classrooms in Monday's edition.

Lee Scott, co-chairman of VOICES 04, the committee campaigning to extend the SPLOST, said that one of the main reasons school was canceled when remnants of hurricanes Frances and Ivan swept through metro Atlanta was because of the trailers.

"God forbid that a tornado pick up a trailer with children in it," Scott said, adding it is dangerous for children to be walking to and from the trailers.

The 2005 n 2009 SPLOST would also renovate and add on to existing schools, renovate other school facilities, purchase school buses, build a technology department building and make other technology improvements.

Scott said the efforts to extend the sales tax have been "excellent."

VOICES 04, Visions of Improving Clayton's Education System, has conducted a phone bank and sent mail outs to drum up support for the 1-cent sales tax, Scott said.

"I've gotten probably 200 calls from residents of Clayton County calling to ask questions," Scott said. "I've had only one person to object of all those callers. I'm confident that residents will support our children."

Fliers were mailed out with information on the special election, Scott said. Some of the questions raised by those who received the flier, indicated that many residents didn't know that there is a school SPLOST and a county SPLOST and that the school SPLOST is up for consideration, while the one for the county is not.

If early voting numbers are any indication of Tuesday's turnout, very few will vote, said Annie Bright, Clayton County director of elections and registration, previously.

Bright said there were 650 advanced and absentee ballots cast last week, which included only 45 walk-in voters.

Scott said the sales tax is not controversial and that uncontroversial issues draw few to the polls.

"Sometimes when people think there is no issue, they think someone else will take care of it," he said.

A high turnout, though, would show the community's support for the school system, Scott said.

The SPLOST would not collect more than $269,564,694. If the collections reach that amount before the five years is up, the tax would end early.

According to the National Weather Service, weather should be sunny with temperatures in the upper 70s all day.