Cherokee County’s 1-percent Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (Ed SPLOST) is up for a renewal on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot, with early voting underway now. This post is design to provide the community with accurate information about the continuation of the existing penny sales tax. More information about the Ed SPLOST is on our website at https://bit.ly/CCSDsplostinfo. If you have questions about the Ed SPLOST, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is Ed SPLOST?
It is a 1% sales tax dedicated to funding capital costs associated with public schools. Cherokee County enacted its Ed SPLOST in 1997. Currently 157 of the 159 counties in Georgia have a 1% sales tax dedicated to K-12 public education.
Why do we have an Ed SPLOST?
A blue-ribbon committee of business, civic and elected leaders in 2001 recommended our community use an Ed SPLOST to build a better Cherokee County School District. They recommended, and the community voted to approve, a plan that would leverage the penny sales tax through bonds to secure large amounts of funding up front in order to catch up with the community’s rapid residential growth. This plan has since been renewed every five years. Without the Ed SPLOST, CCSD would need to raise property taxes to pay the “mortgage” on bond debt created over the past 20 years of rapid school construction.
Why can’t you pay for those projects using property taxes? Or State funding?
Residential growth doesn’t generate enough property taxes to pay for its impact on schools. Residential property taxes, combined with property taxes paid by businesses and other land owners, generates more than half of the funding for daily operations: salaries and benefits, utilities, fuel, supplies, etc. The remainder of the funding for operating costs comes from state and federal income taxes. Neither property taxes nor income taxes raise enough money to pay for school construction and renovations, the replacement of aging school buses, technology infrastructure or purchasing land for future school sites. The State provides some funding for capital costs, but not enough to pay for projects … for example, for the new/replacement Cherokee High School, the total cost will be an estimated $100 Million, and toward that cost the State will contribute $30 Million. This lack of adequate State funding is why almost every school system statewide use an Ed SPLOST to pay for these projects.
Is the Ed SPLOST the same as the county SPLOST?
No – the county government has its own 1% SPLOST, which is used for roads, public safety, parks and other public infrastructure needs. These are the only local sales taxes charged in Cherokee County as part of the 6% total, which is the lowest total in Georgia as 155 other counties (out of 159) have higher rates ranging from 7% - 8%.
What projects will be funded by the renewal?
1. New construction projects. A new/replacement Cherokee High School near the new Teasley Middle School campus is planned, as is a new/replacement Free Home Elementary School near the current campus in that community. Both of these schools are among our oldest … the core campus of Cherokee High School is nearly 70 years old! The renewal also would fund classroom additions and a second gymnasium at Creekview High School; classroom additions at Woodstock High School, Creekland Middle School and Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy, and a second gymnasium at River Ridge High School. Safety and efficiency improvements also would be made to athletics facilities at Etowah High School and Sequoyah High School; and a much-needed professional development/training facility for teachers and support staff is planned.
2. Major renovations and repairs. The proposed upgrades would benefit every school in the district, with work ranging from installing new roofs to upgrading HVAC systems.
3. Continued investment in technology. With minimal State funding for technology, Ed SPLOST remains a main revenue source for infrastructure improvements and classroom hardware.
4. Continued replacement of school buses. We plan to replace 30 aging buses a year over the next five years, and little State funding is available for this critical need.
5. Continued land acquisition. Ed SPLOST revenue remains the main source of funding to stay ahead of residential growth and ensure we have school sites spread throughout the community for future school construction.
6. We’ve been retiring the “mortgage” incurred by the necessity of quickly building so many schools. With the new projects we’ve planned for the Ed SPLOST renewal, we’re on track to retire the mortgage by 2038. Without the Ed SPLOST, our property tax rate would immediately increase by 5 mills to continue retiring our bond debt, and all construction projects, technology investments and school bus and future school site purchases would halt.
What will happen to those projects if the Ed SPLOST isn’t renewed?
The proposed projects will immediately and indefinitely halt. All school construction, renovations, school bus replacements, technology updates and future school site property acquisitions would stop. Schools would become more overcrowded, school buses would be used past acceptable mileage, technology will become outdated, and CCSD will not be able to purchase land ahead of residential growth to prepare for future school site needs.
What happens to my property taxes if the Ed SPLOST isn’t renewed?
In order to continue making CCSD’s required bond debt payments, property taxes would need to increase by 5 mills, which would be a 20% increase in property taxes countywide. Increased property taxes will negatively affect property values, as will underfunded schools that will be unable to adequately serve students.
Does the Ed SPLOST pay for salaries?
No – the Education SPLOST only can be used for capital costs: bond debt retirement, construction of new or replacement schools, renovation projects, replacing school buses, upgrading technology and purchasing future school sites.
I don’t have kids in CCSD schools – why should I care about the Ed SPLOST renewal?
School property taxes are not user fees. Most residents do not pay enough, through property taxes and State income taxes, to fund the full cost of their children’s public education. Public schools are a public service for the entire community, just like roads and public safety. Excellent public schools not only educate the emerging generation, who will work in our community and lead in our community, but they also maintain and increase residential property values. It’s also important to note that our community has a very generous practice of waiving the education portion of county property taxes for senior citizens -- not because their children are grown, but because they’ve paid to support schools for decades.
Why was the CCSD administration building constructed before a new/replacement Cherokee High School?
The administration building was first approved by voters in 2001 but postponed by the School Board and Superintendent of School for 15 years to allow first for the construction of schools needed to meet enrollment growth. The new administration building and auditorium, which cost $16 million, replaced three historic office buildings, which would have cost significantly more than that to renovate and still not meet the needs for training space and public meeting capacity. The new/replacement Cherokee High School project will cost $100 Million, more than six times the cost of the administration building, and CCSD did not have the capacity or the property five years ago to borrow enough money through bonds, to be repaid by Ed SPLOST revenue, for that project.
What will happen to the existing Cherokee High School?
When the new/replacement Cherokee High School campus is built, which is contingent upon the Ed SPLOST renewal, the current campus will be repurposed. Ideas being considered include repurposing the main campus to serve as the new home for the Cherokee College & Career Academy, which opened this school year with one Career Pathway – cybersecurity -- at the ACTIVE Academies campus (also home to ACE Academy, Transition Academy and i-Grad Virtual Academy on the former Teasley campus). The Cherokee North campus could be returned to use as Canton Elementary School, or it could be repurposed as a districtwide preschool and/or Pre-K center. These ideas remain very preliminary, as the School Board would use the traditional community review process to hear stakeholder input before voting on a plan.
What was the cost of artificial turf installed at the six high schools?
The cost to install artificial turf at all six high schools in 2018 was $4.9 Million. The cost of maintaining grass fields was significant and continuously increasing. The installation of artificial turf provided a more cost effective solution, and a solution that the majority of athletic coaches agreed would provide safer playing fields and fields that would better prepare teams to compete at other high schools and at the college level. The turf installation also significantly enhanced scheduling and improved the rate of postponement of events due to inclement weather.
I don’t like some decisions the School Board has made – why should I support the Ed SPLOST?
Supporting the Ed SPLOST is a decision between whether to pay for bond debt retirement and capital costs with a 1% sales tax or to pay bond debt retirement with 5 mills of property taxes (a 25% increase from the current rate) and to postpone indefinitely school construction, renovations, school bus replacements, technology updates and future school site land purchases. The Ed SPLOST vote does not decide who serves on the School Board. The Ed SPLOST vote does not affect State standards for learning, curriculum, lessons plans or staffing decisions. If you are not happy with decisions made by the School Board, as a citizen you can express opinions to them directly by email or phone call or during a School Board meeting. Contact information for School Board members is on our website at https://bit.ly/CCSDboard.
How are school districts funded?
Georgia school districts are funded in four ways: local property taxes, State educational funding (school districts receive funding from State income taxes based on student enrollment), Federal education funding (tied to specific programs such as Special Education and School Nutrition) and the Ed SPLOST. Local property taxes are collected by school districts based on a millage rate. The millage rate in CCSD has not increased in more than a decade. Your property tax bill may have increased during that time, but it is because your property has increased in value. The current millage rate for the county is 19.45 mills, which includes 12.21 mills for daily operations, 1.25 mills for debt service, .39 mills to pay for the county government for its tax collection services and 5.6 mills for the State required “local effort” … as Cherokee County is considered an affluent county by the State, 5.6 mills of our taxes are redistributed by the State to other counties. About 38% of the State’s budget is dedicated to paying for K-12 public education. If you take 38% of what your household paid in State income taxes, less any refunds, that’s a ballpark number for your share of State K-12 funding. If you add to that the education portion of your county property taxes, you’ll see about how much you chip in each year for all of your children’s education … CCSD is spending $11,379 on each student this year. CCSD earned top ratings from the State for FY2019 financial efficiency, tying for the best rating among Metro Atlanta counties. It was the third consecutive year that CCSD achieved a top score. CCSD’s spending on administration is among the lowest 10% in the state: CCSD’s rate of $142 per student is 39% below the state average. Instead of increasing property taxes to pay for capital costs like new schools, renovations, school buses and technology, most school districts in Georgia instead use an Ed SPLOST, which is a consumption tax allowing for the cost to be shared by the entire community – including those who do not pay property taxes and/or state and federal income taxes – and by visitors. More information on how CCSD schools are funded is on our website at https://bit.ly/CCSDfunding101 More information on CCSD’s current operating budget is on our website at https://bit.ly/CCSDff21 CCSD financial information, including detailed budgets and annual independent audits, are posted on our website’s award-winning transparency page, called Open CCSD, https://bit.ly/OpenCCSD.