COVINGTON — Both sides of a proposed education SPLOST had a heated discussion at a forum Tuesday night.
A grassroots organization, the Patriots’ Table, held a SPLOST forum at the Newton County Library that featured Danny Stone, co-chair of the SPLOST election, speaking in favor of the measure and resident Dennis Taylor speaking in opposition to it.
During the forum, Stone presented some of the items that SPLOST IV would fund:
• Half of it is expected to fund property tax relief, paying off 1.9 mills in bond debt service from January 2015 until December 2019. The bonds were issued to pay for school construction.
Stone noted that previous education SPLOSTs did not pay debt — they mostly dealt with building schools because of continued growth. He added that he preferred a sales tax paying for education since everybody who buys something in Newton County would pay for it, not just homeowners.
“It’s the fairest way to spread it out,” he said.
• SPLOST IV also would provide nearly $4 million for a Viewpath S.A.F.E. security system at each school that would put cameras in every classroom. The program is being piloted at Newton High School, and school administration has said that it has improved student behavior and increased rigor by providing access to teacher lessons.
Stone added that when NCSS put cameras on school buses, student behavior and safety improved.
• SPLOST also is expected to fund $17 million worth of school technology and $11 million worth of school maintenance. It also could purchase about 75 buses for nearly $10 million.
“If (the money) isn’t there, it will have to be taken from the general fund,” Stone said, adding that most of that fund is to pay employee salaries and programs, which SPLOST legally can’t fund because of state laws.
• If enough funding is available, Stone said that the system could use $3 million of the SPLOST funds to construct a new Eastside High School, which would have its current building turned into the parent-involvement theme school that is currently housed at Ficquett Elementary School, a building that is no longer part of state funding and has little room for expansion.
Stone said the project is the last priority on the list, even though it is listed first on the actual referendum, and would be completed only if enrollment warranted it and the state would provide enough funding to complete it.
During the forum, Taylor voiced some of his 23 reasons why he’s against SPLOST.
“Eastside High School is not but 18 years old — that should get you to go down and get you to vote no,” Taylor told the audience. “All they want you to hear is one side.”
He said he’s not against teachers or school safety — he would prefer that the election be held in November instead of during March for a special election that costs extra money, and he also would prefer to have armed deputies put into schools, rather than have the proposed security system set up.
Stone added that school resource officers are currently in each middle and high school.
“You’ll know more about what you need in 2014,” Taylor said.
He also added that the tax would equate to 10 mills in property taxes.
“They will never tell you when they have enough money. It’s up to us as taxpayers,” Taylor said. “They’ll keep coming back to you … and keep spending and wasting. The only way to stop them is to tell them no.”
Stone said that the Newton County School System was supposed to receive $53 million more from the state than it has received over the past seven years based on the state’s formula, so already the system has had to make cuts in staff and furlough days and he fears more cuts would have to be made if the system had to fund the proposed projects.
“The school board has to do all they can do to meet the budget to provide education in this community,” he said. “I think we’re making strides in the right direction. … I think we need to continue to work with our Board of Education … to make sure our students get a quality education.”
The special election is set for March 19. Early voting is under way and will continue until March 15.