The Bulloch County Board of Education approved a resolution Thursday calling for a five-year, $52 million extension of the ESPLOST. Next, the Board of Elections will receive the request to call a Nov. 7 special election.
Then if a majority of the county’s voters approve, the 1 percent Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will continue to be collected from Jan. 1, 2019 through 2023. But if the referendum failed to pass, a proposal to extend the tax could be put on the ballot again in November 2018, as pointed out during the school board’s brief discussion Thursday evening.
District 2 board member Mike Sparks made the motion to approve the ESPLOST resolution, and District 4 board member Steve Hein seconded. Dr. Stuart Tedders, the District 3 Board member, said he supported it but had a question.
“What are the potential repercussions to the district if the voters in the county do not support this?” Tedders asked.
Superintendent Charles Wilson noted that, if this November’s referendum failed, there would still be one more chance to win voters’ approval before the EPLOST would expire on Dec. 31, 2018.
“We would have another opportunity in November 2018,” he said.
A Georgia law governing special sales taxes states that if voters reject a tax, the question cannot be put on a ballot again until “the twelfth month immediately following the month in which such election was held.” Both times that Bulloch County’s ESPLOST has been renewed so far, voters approved the extensions more than a year before the tax would have expired.
General fund relief
In those instances, most of the money went to rebuild and replace older schools. But this time, the board is counting on the special purpose tax in part to pay for some things that would otherwise be general fund expenses, Wilson noted.
In the past two years, the board has moved into deficit spending, reducing the reserve in its general fund budget with employee raises and increased per-student funding to the schools, while not raising the property tax rate. If the ESPLOST doesn’t pass this November, the school system’s financial situation would become more uncertain, Wilson told the board.
“Because of the way we’re continuing to utilize this ESPLOST to offset or remove some expenditures from the general fund, that lag time from now to next year will continue to erode the general fund balance,” he said, adding that there would also be “the potential for discontinuation of the current ESPLOST,” he said.
The board approved the resolution 8-0.
If the board follows requests heard by the ESPLOST Committee, half of the projected $52 million revenue will go to buy technology and technology-related school furnishings, school buses and textbooks or electronic materials that can take the place of books.
Besides classroom tools such as a digital platform for learning management and equipment for video production, a $22 million proposal from a technology committee includes STEM lab furnishings and tables for group projects. Safety equipment, such as security cameras and entry identification systems, is also part of the tech package.
Previous technology improvements funded with ESPLOST were those installed in the new schools when they were built, but this proposal will allow more to be done with instructional technology in all of the schools, Craig Liggett, Bulloch County Schools chief information officer, said after Thursday’s meeting.
“Twenty-two million goes a long way with regards to technology in the classrooms, and that’s the key, to improve the use of the technology that the teachers have access to,” Liggett said. “Technology is not going to solve the problems. What solves the problems is the instruction in the classrooms, but the technology is there to support the teachers.”
About $4 million would go to school bus replacement over the five years, with 10 buses replaced annually at an expected cost of about $80,000 each. A new plan for scheduled replacement of playground equipment is projected to receive $750,000.
The ESPLOST Committee had heard proposals from all the schools and the Transitions Learning Center alternative program. The committee then made a prioritized list of school-specific projects.
“The committee was pleased to have the principals from each of our 15 schools, as well as the TLC, present what their school community saw as their top five needs,” Board of Education Chair Cheri Wagner wrote in an email Friday.
“A well-rounded community committee ranked the projects via a rubric,” she said. “That ranking will serve as the recommended guide for project completion of needs.”
Long closed session
After less than 30 minutes in open session Thursday evening, the board spent two hours in closed session to discuss personnel actions and a matter involving disclosure of information from a student’s records. Returning to open session, members unanimously approved Wilson’s recommendations on personnel and then adjourned.