By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools officials announced Monday they are seeking a five-year, $268.3 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that would pay for renovations and maintenance at the district's 60 schools.
School system Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson said the Board of Education will be asked on June 15 to approve a resolution that calls for a special election on the issue this fall. If the new SPLOST is approved by the school board, the Clayton County Board of Elections and the U.S. Department of Justice this summer, Clayton County voters will go to the polls on Sept. 15, to approve or reject the measure.
While the school system used previous SPLOSTs to pay for new school construction, Jackson said the needs of district's existing infrastructure would be the focus this time around.
"We built several new schools with SPLOST money, and now we want to take care of the infrastructure and buildings we have," Jackson said.
Jackson said the district's wish list for the new SPLOST, which he and Interim Schools Superintendent Valya Lee called an "extension" of the current SPLOST III, includes several maintenance projects, such as repaving of parking lots, repainting of schools, enlarging of grease traps in school kitchens, improving air conditioning in gymnasiums at all schools, and resurfacing the tracks at Tara and Twelve Oaks stadiums.
It would also pay for a key card entry system at all schools to restrict access to school buildings, and new "auxiliary gymnasiums" at all of the county's high schools to alleviate scheduling conflicts between sports activities.
"If you don't maintain it, then it's going to deteriorate around you," Jackson said.
SPLOST III is set to expire Dec. 31. Lee said there would be a four-month gap between collection of tax dollars under the current SPLOST and the new one, if the school system waits until November to hold a referendum on the issue.
A SPLOST adds one cent per dollar onto the sales tax a person pays when they buy items such as food, household supplies and clothes, Jackson said. Under that format, if a person spends $100 at a store before the sales tax is added, the SPLOST would add $1 onto the total bill.
If the school board and Board of Elections approves a SPLOST vote later this month, the U.S. Department of Justice will begin pre-clearance procedures in early July, Jackson said. A public campaign committee, separate from the school system, would have to be set up by residents to campaign in favor of the SPLOST, Jackson said.
SPLOSTs, and bonds for new school construction, while once popular, may have an uphill battle with some voters as the U.S. has slipped into a recession. In March, Henry County voters overwhelmingly rejected a $256.5 million bond that would have been used to build new schools and buy new school buses.
Riverdale resident Linda Granger said she is one voter who will not support a new SPLOST in Clayton County. Granger said she has qualms with the idea of the school system asking for a special sales tax when the economy is struggling. Granger also said she believes the district does not do enough to support the education of children with disabilities.
"Not with this economy, because they are not being good stewards of taxpayers' money," Granger said.
"But, we can't have our schools dilapidated and falling down around our students," Morrow grandmother Searless Hathaway said as she turned to respond to Granger. Hathaway said she supports the SPLOST because she believes it will help the education of children, and she plans to volunteer to campaign for it.
Clayton County Council of PTA's (Parent Teacher Associations) President Cyd Cox said she has also pledged the support of local PTAs to campaign for the SPLOST.
Jackson said he believes voters will support the new SPLOST.
But, the SPLOST issue still hinges on whether the school board approves it later this month. "We've known this was coming up, but I hope we will be trustful of the staff because I believe they have had more experience with SPLOSTs than we have," board member Jessie Goree said.
The school board also voted 8-1 to name the district's new athletic stadium Southern Crescent Stadium. Board member Trinia Garrett was the lone dissenting voice. The stadium is located behind Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale, and is scheduled to host its first football game this fall.