COVINGTON -- Two county officials are speaking out about part of the proposed education SPLOST.
John Douglas, District 1 representative for the Newton County Board of Commissioners, and Jeff Meadors, District 1 representative for the Newton County Board of Education, issued a joint letter on Thursday regarding the language of the upcoming educational SPLOST referendum, for which early voting is now under way.
"We recommend the voters carefully consider the future of Eastside High School when voting on this referendum," the letter reads. "We believe that revised language may better clarify for the voters the more likely prospect of a new building for the current Theme School at Ficquett, rather than jeopardizing the high school that has served our part of Newton County so well."
The referendum calls for more than $3.25 million to be used to construct a replacement high school for Eastside High School. Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews has said that a new high school would be warranted only by enrollment in order to move the parent-involvement theme school from the Ficquett Elementary School building into the current Eastside building. The state would also have to provide funding in order for a new building to be constructed.
"We have a great high school on this side of the county, and we want to keep it that way," said Douglas, whose daughter graduated from Eastside in 2009. "I don't see a need for (a new building). It's not at capacity. It's something that's not broken."
He said he would rather see the money be used for renovations to Ficquett if the school system wants to improve the Theme School. Ficquett was phased out of state funding a few years ago, so the state no longer pays for renovations.
"I think the language is such that it's risky for Eastside High School," Douglas said.
He said he plans to vote no in the SPLOST election. He wouldn't say if he was for or against other parts of the SPLOST referendum, which includes property tax relief, school security, school technology and maintenance and school buses.
He said that if the referendum does not pass, then he would recommend that the school board change the language and propose it again in November 2014, which is the next time that the board could legally propose it in time for it to go into effect before the current SPLOST runs out in December 2014.
Meadors said he is not opposed to SPLOST. He voted, along with the rest of the school board, to put the call for the SPLOST referendum out to voters in December.
"My fall vote was in support of getting this out to voters, but since that time, our enrollment has dropped," Meadors said. "Much like my support of moving the charter amendment to the voters, I believe the voters should make these decisions, but I do have concerns about the current SPLOST language."
He said recently he's received many complaints about the wording and especially about the part concerning Eastside High.
"I do owe district constituents explanations about the language when and where I can provide them. Thus, John and I crafted a joint letter, as he had concerns also," Meadors said. "I'm in no way trying to influence anyone's vote. ... We'll just have to see what happens."
They said they are not speaking for either the Board of Education or the Board of Commissioners, but as district representatives.
Editor's note: Please see today's Perspective Page on 7A for the full text of the letter.