10/27/2020: 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 email@example.com.
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.
4/23/21 FICTION: Is the content of this actual email sent to CCSD true? “It has recently come to our attention that Dr. Cecelia Lewis has been hired by the Cherokee County School District as an “administrator on special assignment.” This “special assignment” is implementing DEI and Critical Race Theory to our kids throughout the district. We will not let this happen. We will not stand by and let extreme and dangerous ideology spread to our kids. We respectfully request that this “special assignment” be terminated immediately or it will be met with very strong opposition.”
FACT: CCSD has created an administrator on special assignment position to oversee social and emotion learning (SEL) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The person hired for the position begins in July and will be a part of the Office of School Operations and report to the Chief Operations Officer. There are no plans to introduce "critical race theory" – this is a complete fabrication created through rumor mongering on social media. CCSD follows Georgia Performance Standards of Excellence, which determine what lessons students will learn and when, and those standards do not include "critical race theory"; these standards are detailed on our website at https://www.cherokeek12.net/Content2/divisions-curriculum-student-performance-standards-and-curriculum-maps. This new position doesn’t have the authority to independently select or implement curriculum in classrooms. CCSD’s SEL initiative began several years ago in response to rising suicide rates, self-harm and depression among our students. The DEI portion of the role is to assist with related priorities in the Blueprint strategic plan that the School Board adopted in 2019 after community effort involving students, parents, employees and business and community partners. You can read the plan and learn about its background on our website at https://www.cherokeek12.net/Content/strategic-plan-blueprint.
8/12/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard CCSD is only holding school for 10 days or for three weeks in order to earn funding or a grant, is that true?
FACT: No – this is not how school funding is determined. The State of Georgia requires public school systems submit attendance reports for two specific dates, one in October and one in March, and those totals are used to determine education funding. The standard school year is Georgia is 180 days, but CCSD has an approved waiver for that requirement, which was requested by the School Board in preparation for closures due to inclement weather or other emergencies. Federal education funding is based on specific needs, such as the number of students receiving Special Education services or who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. We are not aware of any grants that require school systems hold school on specific days or for specific periods of time. Our Superintendent and School Board are committed to offering in-person learning as long as it’s sustainable, as expressed in Dr. Hightower’s message on Aug. 7, 2020 archived at https://bit.ly/CCSDmessages.
7/24/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that class sizes are going to be 38 students or more, is that true?
FACT: There are no plans to increase in-person class sizes beyond last school year's levels -- which were the lowest class sizes in six years; for high school classes, that was normally a maximum of 32 students, but averaged 27. Class sizes decrease along with grade levels down to 20 students in a kindergarten class. School staff still are building schedules for both in-person and Digital Learning classes. Digital Learning classes will be slightly larger given that there is not a physical classroom constraint, so it is feasible a high school Digital Learning class could have 38 students.
7/23/2020 FICTION: I read online that CCSD bars teachers from posting on social media or talking to reporters?
FACT: Unfortunately, an online media source reported this false information and will not correct it, despite our requests. All CCSD employees are required to annually review and agree to various policies and guidelines as a condition of their employment; these include social media guidelines that are posted publicly here. There is a School Board Policy that specifically addresses news media, and that is posted publicly here. Additionally, educators must adhere to the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators, which is posted publicly here. Neither the policies, guidelines nor the Code bar speech – they set agreed-upon limitations, similar to what most workers agree to in their various professions and/or places of employment … for example, a solicitor should not share his personal opinion about a pending case, a manufacturing employee should not share his company’s trade secrets, and a store employee should not argue with customers.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that the Superintendent is getting a 22% raise in the 2020-21 budget?
FACT: The Superintendent is receiving the same “step” salary increase as all eligible full-time CCSD employees, which, on average is 3%. With that step increase ($7,231), his proposed FY2021 base salary is $248,251. The total cost for all CCSD employee “step” increases, as noted in the budget’s Executive Summary on page vi, is $4.1 Million. From a budgeting and reporting perspective, new reporting changes from the IRS require reimbursable expenses (the Superintendent’s his contractual benefits, such as a car allowance, retirement, healthcare, and work travel expenses) be reported as salary expenses. As a result, those reimbursable expenses that total $47,650 and previously were reported and denoted under other Functions elsewhere in prior budgets, now must be added to his reported compensation as salary. We also believe this is a more transparent way of showing the public the total compensation for the Superintendent, rather than dividing it over multiple budget categories.
PERSPECTIVE: The CCSD Superintendent is CEO of Cherokee County’s largest employer, with 5,000 employees. The CCSD Superintendent salary is actually below market for superintendents of similar school districts in Metro Atlanta. (CCSD is in the top 10 largest districts in Georgia, however both superintendents of districts closest in size reported a 2019 base salary of $308,000 and $300,000) and significantly less than CEOs of businesses of the same size. Specific to current Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, he has 35 years of experience in education, holds three education degrees, and is in his fifth year as a superintendent, which exceeds the national average.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that School Board Members are getting a raise in the 2020-21 budget, is that true?
FACT: School Board Members are not getting any raise in compensation at all. School Board Member compensation is determined by local legislation sponsored by Cherokee County’s State Representatives and Senators; in 2017, it was set at $1,000 per month for each of the six Board members and $1,200 per month for the sole Board Chair, and has not been changed. This annual cost is $86,400 for all seven School Board members. New reporting changes from the IRS required this total to be reported in a different part/Function of the budget beginning at the start of the calendar year.
PERSPECTIVE: The compensation levels for Cherokee County’s School Board Members are significantly less than those of similar size school districts.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that the supplemental pay teachers receive for coaching sports or leading programs like band is being cut, is that true?
FACT: No – we are making a change to how frequently these supplements are paid, but all staff will continue to be paid for services provided to students. The payment schedule is the only change for the 2020-21 school year; this is an internal process decision, that can be changed in the future, if needed. This change is needed to avoid having to collect payments made when services were not rendered, for example, if a coach steps back from coaching responsibilities before the season begins or mid-season. If an employee receives this money in advance for services not rendered, it must be repaid, which can cause a hardship.
PERSPECTIVE: We cannot, by law, pay staff for services not rendered. The only exception is if, in an emergency situation, the School Board approves a resolution allowing for pay to continue. This is how CCSD was able to continue to pay staff during the school closures even if they were not actively working, such as school bus drivers and After School Program workers.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that a CCSD employee died from COVID-19 and CCSD is keeping it a secret, is that true?
FACT: CCSD, like any employer, must follow federal privacy laws regarding employees’ health information. The fact that a CCSD employee passed away earlier this month from complications related to COVID-19 was announced during the July 9, 2020 School Board Meeting (the video of which is online). The employee’s name intentionally was not shared publicly and will not be shared publicly due to federal privacy laws. In keeping with standard protocols within our organization for the internal distribution of news about the passing of employees and employees’ immediate family members, we did not disclose the cause of death in the emailed notice as is our practice and in keeping with the family’s wishes. However, in this case, and in all instances when a current employee passes, the employee’s coworkers were aware of the cause of his death. As this specific employee had tested positive for COVID-19, all Department of Public Health (DPH) protocols were immediately followed for notifications to potentially exposed coworkers and required quarantines. The same process for notifications and quarantines will take place should there be future incidents of active employees testing positive; should there be incidents of an employee in a school and/or student testing positive while school is in session, CCSD will follow DPH protocols for notification and quarantines.
PERSPECTIVE: Members of our CCSD family care deeply about their coworkers. Do not mistake our organization’s efforts to protect an employee’s and families’ privacy for a lack of care. It is incredibly unfortunate that citizens in our community would allege otherwise, with some even crossing a line we feel disrespects this man’s memory and his family and friends.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that CCSD deleted all the social media posts about school reopening, is that true?
FACT: Yes – those posts were deleted due to the volume of comments spreading misinformation about the plan and about COVID-19, as well as inappropriate language, libelous comments, defamatory comments, trolling and combative posts between citizens, and otherwise unacceptable behavior. CCSD has posted guidelines as to how users can interact with our social media accounts (posted on our website as well as on the account profiles); and we reserve the right to hide comments, delete comments and block users. CCSD also reserves the right to delete our own posts – there is no law requiring we have a social media presence nor is there a law stating we cannot delete our own posts. The video was uploaded to the CCSD website and is posted on both the meeting agenda webpage and our Open CCSD webpage, where we always post the video from the most recent meeting. The CCSD Reopening of School Plan and the FAQs are on our webpage and remain accessible to the public.
PERSPECTIVE: We appreciate feedback from our community, including criticism and differences of opinion; however, our accounts exist to communicate accurate information – these are not a free-for-all forum for users to post misinformation, make libelous and/or defamatory comments about CCSD employees or students, or attack each other.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that CCSD deleted the video from its last School Board meeting, is that true?
FACT: No; while there were technical issues during the July 9, 2020 meeting with the initial live-streaming platform due to demand, CCSD immediately began a second live stream on Facebook. The Facebook video was downloaded and uploaded onto our website, where it is both posted on the meeting agenda webpage and our Open CCSD webpage, where we always post the video from the most recent meeting. Through the CCSD platform, 3,225 people were able to view the July 9 meeting; and the Facebook live stream had viewership of 2,700 people at its peak.
PERSPECTIVE: CCSD is not required by law to live stream or record School Board meetings nor is it required to post and/or archive videos of its meetings. In recent years, CCSD has recorded these meetings as an additional effort to increase transparency. For the July 9, 2020 School Board meeting, while not legally required, live streaming was added for the first time to allow for greater access, due to the fact seating was limited to meet the Governor’s social-distancing mandate for public meetings. As these mandated measures remain in place, live streaming again will be used for the July 16, 2020 School Board meeting, and CCSD will use a different platform to accommodate for viewers.