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Education SPLOST to be debated at forum
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Residents can learn more about the county’s proposed education SPLOST by attending a forum Tuesday, which will discuss pros and cons of renewing the extra 1 percent of sales tax, which is used to boost the Newton County School System's budget.

The Patriots' Table, a local group that educates the public on county political elections, will host a forum concerning the upcoming March 19 SPLOST vote at 6 p.m. on March 5 at the Newton County Library, 7116 Floyd Street NE.

Community leader Danny Stone, a citizen co-chair for the upcoming education SPLOST IV referendum, will speak in favor of renewing the sales tax, while citizen Dennis Taylor will speak in opposition.

Fred Wheeler with Patriots’ Table said during the forum each person will have about three minutes to discuss their platform on the subject, and then the other person will follow with a rebuttal. The same questions will then be asked to both participants in the forum. Citizens will then have the opportunity to ask their questions about the proposed renewal of the education SPLOST.

“We hope that people will learn what the details are in the proposal to extend the sales tax,” Wheeler said. “It’s not a closed meeting, so it’s open and anybody can come.

“We primarily want people to know what the facts are and then let them make up their mind. We assume that if they have the facts they will vote the right way,” Wheeler said.

A vote on renewing the education SPLOST will take place on March 19. Each education SPLOST lasts five years. The current SPLOST doesn't end up until 2014, so the SPLOST being voted on this year would continue from 2015 to 2019.

Monies collected from SPLOST cannot be used for paying salaries, buying supplies or maintenance, because state law prohibits it. They can be used only to pay for capital projects and to retire debt.

All of the schools in Newton County have benefited from SPLOST money in some way. Officials said many schools have had extensions completed to make room for more students; Alcovy High School, Liberty Middle School and Flint Hill Elementary School are some of the more recent schools built with the funds, and currently, the replacement for Newton High School is being constructed using SPLOST money.

Newton County School Superintendent Gary Mathews recently explained the need for the continued sales tax at his Community Leadership Forum. During the forum Mathews listed several SPLOST projects and their cost.

Those projects included debt service tax relief for $30 million; new school security, which includes the purchase of a Viewpath S.A.F.E. camera, audio and silent alarm system for every classroom in every school for a cost of $3.85 million; new school technology, including computers and printers, infrastructure upgrades, interactive equipment and software for all schools for a cost of $17 million; conducting school maintenance, which would include system-wide roofing, paving, electrical upgrades and HVAC renovations for a cost of $11.3 million; providing additional student transportation, with approximately 75 school buses and other bus maintenance equipment for $9.6 million; and beginning construction of a replacement high school for Eastside High School or make additions to current buildings dependent upon enrollment, growth and state funding for $3.25 million.