By Pat Cooper
Thursday night, a few hours after pitching the idea of a college and career academy in Fayette County to the Peachtree City council, councilmember Kim Learnard announced she was on board with voting ‘yes’ in the proposed ESPLOST that will be on the November 6 ballot.
Learnard picked up the same line that her fellow councilman George Dienhart had been pulling, saying that the shortfall for the school system is too high and the ESPLOST will give the Fayette County school system the opportunity to pay down some of the debt its wracked up, resulting in lower property taxes - or, at least, not an increase.
“I dont like voting for any tax,” said Dienhart, “but the school system is facing a $20 million shortfall.”
Learnard and Dienhart are two in a long line of local politicos and local activists who are pushing to have the tax continued for another four years.
ESPLOST supporters contend that $107 million in proceeds could be realized from the tax - which would be a continuation of the one passed originally by voters in 2008 and which would otherwise expire in 2013.
Current ESPLOST projects slated for 2013 include roofing and HVAC repairs to North Fayette Elementary, McIntosh High, Burch Elementary, Flat Rock Middle and Sandy Creek High Schools to the tune of $17.6 million.
Future ESPLOST projects, slated to take place from 2015 to 2018 if the resolution is passed, also includes Roof and HVAC repairs for Braelinn Elementary, Whitewater Middle, Kedron Elementary, Spring Hill, Fayette County High, Starr’s Mill High and Rising Starr Middle and, in the case of Kedron, Spring Hill FCHS, Starr’s Mill and Rising Starr, extensive renovations including
painting, replacing floor coverings, replacing suspended ceiling systems and lighting for a total estimated expenditure of $41.5 million - all of which would be covered by the ESPLOST.
ESPLOST funds can be used for extraordinary items such as capital purchases or maintenance; it may not be used for operations.
Supporters say the ESPLOST funds support the operational budget by funding items that would otherwise by paid for out of the operational budget at the expense of programs and teachers. Before the ESPLOST, Fayette County’s school system paid for school repair, books, buses, technology and other capital items out of the operational budget.
Additionally, 35 percent of the current ESPLOST and the proposed continuation pays a portion of the school bond payment (principle and interest) which directly lowers the school bond millage rate.
ESPLOST funds have been used to equip schools with “Classroom of the 21st Century” technology which has become the national standard. Fayette County was in the 50th percentile in adoption and 172 out of the state’s 179 school systems have an ESPLOST.