Voters approve school SPLOST

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton County school system's 1-cent sales tax was extended for another five years, as more than 65 percent of voters approved the tax in a low turnout.

But the real winner Tuesday was apathy since only 3.5 percent of the 120,534 voters bothered to turn out on a pleasant sunny end of summer day.

In Tuesday's special election, 2,729 voted to extend the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which is set to expire Dec. 31, through 2009, according to the uncertified results from the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration. There were 1,511 votes against the tax.

"I think this says volumes about the people of the county," said the Rev. Otis N. White Jr., co-chairman of the committee campaigning for the sales tax. "I'm just excited. I can't begin to tell you how excited I am. Our kids, they deserve this."

White joined school officials and members of the community as they watched results come in at Clayton County International Park.

"To me this is a no-brainer," White said. "This is in the best interest of our kids."

As student enrollment steadily climbs and fields of trailers serving as classrooms grow, the school system asked voters to approve the tax to handle the growth.

"I am so happy," Clayton County Board of Education Member Connie Kitchens said. "This is something we needed in the county to have five more years of progress."

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

The tax will fund the construction of three elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school, along with additions and renovations to other schools, for a total of 649 additional classrooms.

"Thank you, thank you, big thank you very much," Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said.

Pulliam called the growth of the county "phenomenal," adding that "it's not going to stop."

When the remnants of hurricanes Frances and Ivan forced the system to close schools, Pulliam said the trailers were a major consideration in the decision. She explained that children aren't allowed to be outside with winds stronger than 40 mph, and trailers add to the danger. They actually move with the wind.

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 previously. "At today's estimate, we should be out of the trailers at the end of (the 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 2005 n 2009 SPLOST will 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.

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