Several community members attended a forum dedicated to the upcoming education SPLOST vote on March 19, and they voiced their opinions and concerns with the Newton County Board of Education and the Newton County School System Tuesday night.
More than 50 people attended the forum held by local group The Patriots' Table at the Covington Branch Library. Community leader Danny Stone, a citizen co-chair for the upcoming education SPLOST IV referendum, spoke in favor of renewing the proposed extra 1 percent sales tax, which would be used to boost the Newton County School System's infrastructure budget, while citizen Dennis Taylor spoke in opposition.
During the forum, Stone presented several reasons voters should support the education SPLOST and explained what the referendum would help fund. He mentioned the following about the education SPLOST:
- “Education SPLOST is a 1 cent sales tax. It is a continuation of a 1 cent sales tax. It’s not a new tax. This is not going to take us to 8 cents it’s not going to do anything along those lines. It’s going to continue what we have been paying for, for the last 15 years.”
- “This is SPLOST IV. The current one does not expire until Dec. 31, 2014. This sales tax, if passed on March 19, will be for the years 2015 through 2019.”
- “There is a list of things that are included in this package that are going to be funded through this extended sales tax. The projects include debt service relief. The sales tax is projected to raise approximately $55 to $58 million dollars over the course of a five-year period. In that, $30 million projected to be raised is to go toward debt service payments. That is going to reduce property taxes. 1.93 in debt service is currently going towards bond millage to pay this debt service, if this passes, that $30 million would relieve that 1.93 millage rate on tax bills for the years 2015 through 2019.”
According to previous information released by the school system, Education SPLOST IV is expected to fund:
-New school security, which includes the purchase of a VIEWPath and S.A.F.E. camera, audio and silent alarm system for every classroom in every school at a cost of $3.85 million.
-New school technology, including computers and printers, infrastructure upgrades, interactive equipment and software for all schools at a cost of $17 million
- School maintenance, which would include system-wide roofing, paving, electrical upgrades and HVAC renovations at a cost of $11.3 million.
- Additional student transportation, with approximately 75 school buses and other bus maintenance equipment at $9.6 million.
- Construction of a replacement high school for Eastside High School or making additions to current buildings dependent upon enrollment, growth and state funding at $3.25 million.
In opposition, Taylor presented the audience with a list of 23 reasons why he was against the education SPLOST.
He said he didn’t believe the school system needed to replace Eastside High School, which was only 18-years-old. “That’s self-explanatory. That should get you to go down there and vote no,” he said.
“This will not take a pinch from the Newton County School System if you vote no on March 19. All it will do is push it back. They’re going to run it again in November 2014 in the general election. That’s when it needs to be run, that’s when most people vote,” Taylor said.
“They are educating on one side. That’s all they want you to hear,” Taylor said.
Taylor also added that the education SPLOST isn’t being used for the most important needs of the school system, which is to hire and maintain good teachers and armed security (deputies) in the schools.
“I’m not against teachers, I’m not against safety of schools,” he said.
Stone made the point that school resource officers were already in the middle and high schools and said the proposed security systems would help alert deputies a lot quicker in the event of an emergency situation.
Back and forth
Several pieces of information were passed along to members of the audience from both Stone and Taylor, as they both continued to discuss why voters should vote for or against the education SPLOST.
“They will never tell us they have enough money,” Taylor said. “It is up to us, the voters to hold them accountable by telling them they have enough money.”
Stone said the state of Georgia has made $53 million in cuts from the Newton County School System over the last seven years and that without the continuation of SPLOST funds, the system would continue to see cuts in order to fund projects, such as the maintenance of schools.
“If we continue to take those funds, there’s nothing else for them to do that maintenance. You start taking those types of dollars out, then it’s going to affect teachers,” he said.
“It’s going to be teachers. It’s going to be additional furlough days. It’s going to be things that impact the education of the students.”
A vote on the education SPLOST will be held on March 19. Early voting is underway until March 15 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Newton County Administration Building.
Though the forum was dedicated to the education SPLOST, some in the audience consistently raised concerns about other topics within the school system.
Stone and Taylor were both given three to four minutes to discuss their platforms regarding the education SPLOST. However, after facts and myths about the education SPLOST were presented, citizens quickly jumped into the discussion to talk about a number of other issues.
Topics of discussion ranged from the school system’s recent settlement with former deputy superintendent of operations Dennis Carpenter and former Alcovy High School principal LaQuanda Carpenter — a settlement where the Board of Education paid each of the Carpenters a lump sum payment of their regular salaries through May 31, including benefits, through June 30, a total of $68,508.98, following several months of lawsuits and alleged dissension within the board – to the hiring and laying off of teachers and paraprofessionals in Newton County schools.
“I think that we are forgetting the picture here. The big picture is we are talking about education and we are talking about the kids of this community, and if we don’t stop focusing on all that negativity, we are never going to move forward,” a woman in the audience said. “I have two children in this school system and I think for every parent here, it is about time that we shut up and stop gossiping about something that happened that we don’t have no control over and focus on these kids and their education.”
The audience rumbled in agreement and disagreement after the woman’s statement. Discussions then shifted back toward the education SPLOST and why some felt it needed to be improved.
“None of this money is going towards — that I see here — bettering an education. It’s for debt service, it’s for school buses, it’s for technology, which is $17 million out of this, everything else other than that is maintenance. So we are saying the education is about equal to what we pay in maintenance. Well, what kind of message is that?” another man asked. “If we are going to do this, it should be for education, to hire more teachers. We laid off how many parapros and how many teachers took furlough days?”
“You can’t do that with SPLOST dollars,” Stone said. “You can’t use education SPLOST funds to fund salaries.”
Continue to read The News for more in-depth coverage of the education SPLOST and what all it will entail.