COVINGTON -- The school board chair hopes to clarify with voters some issues surrounding the upcoming SPLOST election.
"Recent newspaper articles and discussions have taken place about our school system as of late. As a NCSS Board Of Education member, I feel the need to clarify some information that is being presented in our community," said Newton County Board of Education Chair Abigail Coggin.
She said that the current Newton County School System facilities plan does state that the Newton County Theme School will move into the current Eastside High School in 2017 after a replacement high school is built, but she wants to stress that it's just a plan, not set in stone.
"The facility plan was developed at a time where the student population was growing by leaps and bounds," she added. "Before the BOE can decide whether or not a new school should be built, the student population and planned growth must be studied so to determine if a new facility is necessary."
She said the school board must look at the needs at a particular time.
"The plan that was approved in the past calls for a replacement EHS to be built next; however, I can say in my personal opinion, based on the current student population, a new high school may not be the best use of funds," she said. "The BOE is notified monthly of the student population and the facility needs. The BOE can vote to change the facility plan based on the needs of our community, and I feel confident that our BOE will make the best decisions possible for our students."
She also wants voters to know that the proposed $4 million for a Viewpath S.A.F.E. security system at each school that would put cameras in every classroom is not just for security.
"It serves many purposes with security being a main factor. Teachers are able to use the camera to record their classroom instruction. Should a student miss school, then the student can access the teacher's site via the internet and watch what was missed in class during their absence," Coggin said. "Another unique feature will allow teachers to share their instructions with other classes. For instance, a teacher could say to another teacher, 'My students are having a hard time understanding a certain topic.' The other teacher could say, 'I explained it this way.' The teacher having the difficulty could show the other teacher's instruction to the class and maybe the students would benefit from the different teaching styles and explanations. Personally, I feel it is a win-win for meeting both the educational and security needs of our students."
Coggin pointed out that legally, SPLOST funds can only be used for capital expenditures.
"The NCSS cannot use SPLOST funds to pay for teachers' salaries, school resource officers' salaries, textbooks and other operating expenditures," she said. "Should the SPLOST IV be approved on March 19, the majority of the funds will be used for Debt Service Relief ($30 million). As a property owner, I think this is a great because ultimately it could reduce the annual taxes I pay on my personal property."
Other areas where the funds will be spent would be $17 million in school technology, $11 million in school maintenance and nearly $10 million in student transportation.
"If SPLOST IV is not approved then the capital projects will have to be paid out of the General Fund if warranted," Coggin said. "Currently 85 percent of the general fund is spent on personnel, which includes salaries and benefits. That leaves 15 percent to be spent on all other expenses including paying down debt, school maintenance, student transportation, textbooks, etc."
She said that since 2006, NCSS has received $53 million less from the state of Georgia based on the funding formula provided by state law.
"Therefore, having SPLOST funds available to cover capital expenses does provide some relief on the general fund and the programs that it funds," she said. "Whether the SPLOST passes or not, I am confident that the BOE will make the best decisions they possibly can about educating our students based on the funds available."
If the March referendum fails, the school board can call for another election as part of the November 2014 General Election.
The current SPLOST ends in December 2014. If approved, the new SPLOST would go into effect the following January and continue until December 2019. It would be the fourth round of an education SPLOST for the county that started in May 2007.
The special election is Tuesday, March 19, when polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters can visit the Secretary of State's My Voter Page to locate their polling place
Early voting started Feb. 25 and will continue until March 15. Voting hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Newton County Administration Building on the first floor across the hall from the election office.