COVINGTON — The Newton County School System has released more information concerning the upcoming education SPLOST election.
Voters will head to the polls March 19 to decide if they want to extend the existing 1 percent tax for education for a five-year period from 2015-2019. It would be the fourth round of an education SPLOST for the county that started in May 2007.
NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews noted during his community forum this week that the SPLOST would provide funds for property tax relief, school security and technology, student transportation, and school maintenance.
Mathews said new buildings and additions must be built on an as-needed basis based on growth with adjacent state funding, as has been done in the past. He said only a new high school would be warranted by enrollment, even though the system’s facilities plan calls for a new Eastside High School in order to move the parent-involvement theme school from the Ficquett Elementary School building into the current Eastside building.
If warranted, the system could begin construction on a replacement high school or make additions to current buildings for more than $3 million with SPLOST funds, which would have to be supported by state capital funds, too.
Mathews said Newton County property owners pay 1.9 mills in debt service, which pays off bonds on such schools as Flint Hill Elementary School, the Newton College & Career Academy and Newton High School.
If SPLOST is approved, that figure would be cut to zero for five years, allowing for $30 million in school bond property tax relief.
SPLOST also could provide nearly $4 million for school security. Mathews has noted that a Viewpath S.A.F.E. camera, audio and silent alarm system for every classroom at every school would cost $3.85 million. The system is being piloted in 20 classrooms at Newton High School.
If SPLOST is approved, school technology would include $17 million worth of computers and printers, infrastructure upgrades, interactive equipment and software for all schools. School maintenance would include more than $11 million worth of systemwide roofing, paving, electric upgrades and HVAC renovations.
The system also could purchase about 75 buses for nearly $10 million.
Mathews said without SPLOST purchasing and payments, the funding for the items would have to come from the general fund, which pays for salaries and supplies and already has experienced $26 million in cuts over the past several years. The system’s maintenance and operations millage rate is maxed out at the 20-mill limit, so the system cannot legally raise it to collect more taxes.
“The general fund cannot support further erosion,” Mathews said.
He said past SPLOST funds have allowed the system to purchase technology, maintain buildings, purchase new school buses and pay off school bus leases in the amount of about $6.7 million.
The current SPLOST ends in December 2014. The system cannot use bonds or SPLOST funds for operating expenses such as salaries and benefits, textbooks, utilities and fuel.