By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education on Monday approved a call for a referendum on a proposed $280.25 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) IV. The referendum will come without a requested five-year, $100 million bond proposal.
The school district has not had any debt since the first SPLOST was implemented in 1997, said Acting Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson. Failure to include the issuing of bonds eliminates the district from eligibility for $12 million in school construction bonds approved for Clayton Schools under the federal stimulus plan, Jackson explained.
The bonds would have been repaid with SPLOST money, Jackson said.
The school board voted 6-2 to approve the call for the referendum on the proposed SPLOST without the bonds. Board members Trinia Garrett and Jessie Goree were the dissenting voices.
"My concern is this [school system] has not had debt, that I know of, since we began using SPLOST," said board member Pamela Adamson, who voted with the majority. "Coming on the heels of the deficit budget that we have, this [the bond proposal] scares me," she added.
The bonds would "give us more latitude with what we could do with SPLOST," Goree said. "I'm pro-SPLOST, I just think [the bond option] was the way to go. [It] would have allowed us to use the stimulus funds. Now we can't."
If the proposed SPLOST is approved by the Clayton County Board of Elections and the U.S. Department of Justice in the coming weeks, voters in the county will be asked to go to the polls on Sept. 15, for a special election on the issue. District officials have said a vote on the proposed SPLOST needs to happen earlier in the fall to ensure a continuous influx of money, once the current SPLOST III expires on Dec. 31.
The proposed $280.25 million SPLOST IV would be used to pay for a couple of school construction projects, Jackson said, but it would mainly pay for school renovation projects in areas such as building access, bathrooms, kitchens, parking lots, gymnasiums, and the tracks at Tara and Twelve Oaks stadiums.
In some cases, renovations are needed for some areas, such as school kitchens, to meet an increased demand for services that was created as older schools were expanded through projects funded by previous SPLOSTs.
Projects which would be funded by the proposed SPLOST include:
· Construction of a new school for grades 6-12, likely to be the home of the district's new Elite Scholars Academy Charter School.
· Construction of a new elementary school next to Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale, to replace the existing Riverdale Elementary School.
· Installing a key-card entry system to restrict unauthorized access to the district's 60 schools.
· Building "auxiliary gymnasiums" at all of the county's high schools.
· Improving air conditioning in school gymnasiums.
· Resurfacing the tracks at Tara and Twelve Oaks stadiums.
· Repaving parking lots at all schools.
· Repainting school buildings.
· Renovating school bathrooms.
· Enlarging grease traps in school kitchens.
In addition to opening the door to stimulus funding, approving the ability to take out five-year bonds, at an interest rate of 5 percent, would have locked in per-square-foot construction costs at a 2009 rate for the next five years, Jackson said.
Jackson added that throughout the current SPLOST III, construction prices have fluctuated between $114 and $161 per square foot. "We're going to run into the same issues we had during the current SPLOST," Jackson said. "It's going to restrict the scope of the things we're looking at doing ... but we'll still be able to be to do the things we said we'd do."