The Cherokee County School Board at its regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, reviewed plans for the Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) up for renewal by voters in the Nov. 2 election.
The Cherokee County School District, for the past 24 years, has used a 1-percent Education SPLOST to fund capital improvement projects, which include constructing new schools and facilities and renovating existing ones; funding technology infrastructure; buying school buses; and purchasing land for future schools.
Since the initial recommendation from a Blue Ribbon Committee made up of community leaders to begin the Ed SPLOST to support schools, the community has voted to continue the penny sales tax. Voters are being asked in the Nov. 2 election, with early voting beginning October 12, to continue the existing Ed SPLOST for another five years to fund needed projects. CCSD enrollment has grown from 24,400 to approximately 42,000 students over the Ed SPLOST’s existence, and CCSD has constructed 19 new schools among the many projects completed during that time.
If voters renew the existing Ed SPLOST this fall, CCSD will use the proceeds to:
- Continue retiring bond debt from past rapid construction, which will continue to prevent the need to increase property taxes by 5 mills to pay CCSD’s “mortgage”;
- Build a new/replacement Cherokee High School near the new Teasley Middle School campus;
- Build a new/replacement Free Home Elementary School near the current campus;
- Build classroom additions and a second gymnasium at Creekview High School;
- Build classroom additions at Woodstock High School;
- Build classroom additions at Creekland Middle School;
- Build classroom additions at Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy;
- Build a second gymnasium at River Ridge High School;
- Renovate various schools and campuses including athletics facilities at Etowah High School and Sequoyah High School to improve safety and efficiency and reduce operational costs;
- Purchase school buses to replace aging buses;
- Construct much-needed professional development/training facilities for teachers and support staff;
- Maintain technology infrastructure; and,
- Purchase land for future school sites.
The proposed maximum of $290 Million in new bonds for these projects would be issued over a five-year period (2023-2027), and this “mortgage” would be paid in full by August 2038. The proposed project list also would generate an additional $43.56 Million in State reimbursements for CCSD based on Georgia’s public school construction funding formula.
“This is a continuation of our existing sales tax, and it’s a consumption tax that everyone pays for,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said. “When you see license plates from other counties and states at the outlet mall, they’re helping the Ed SPLOST.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower noted that, including the Ed SPLOST, the county’s total sales tax is a competitive 6% -- the lowest in Georgia. If property taxes were used instead of the Ed SPLOST, it would require an immediate increase of 5 mills on every tax bill … and all new construction, technology updates and bus purchases would come to a halt.
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques is again leading community efforts to support the renewal as the Education SPLOST committee chairman. Brian Albrecht, President and CEO of Credit Union of Georgia and a CCSD alum, is serving as the treasurer.
The School Board also paid tribute to a longtime educator retiring after 28 years of service in CCSD. Dr. Adrian Thomason, CCSD’s executive director for middle school and high school certified staffing, began his career in Cobb County as a classroom teacher. He joined CCSD as a teacher, then served as an assistant principal and as Principal at Dean Rusk Middle School and at Creekview High School until taking on his current role in 2016. His wife, Lori, is a retired CCSD teacher.
“Adrian has dedicated his career to serving our community’s children and their teachers, and we’re so thankful he choose CCSD,” Dr. Hightower said, describing him as a “great encourager.” “We’re going to miss his expertise and the great care he shows for everyone he supports, and we wish him the best in his retirement.”
Dr. Hightower also noted an important absence from the agenda – thanks to efficient and planful budgeting, CCSD avoided the need to issue Tax Anticipation Notices this fall for short-term borrowing to bridge the gap until local property tax revenue arrives. This avoidance means that CCSD will not need to pay the associated interest for this borrowing.
The School Board also took the following action:
- Heard a monthly report on COVID-19 cases among CCSD students and staff, which have decreased to 228 as of Thursday from a peak of more than 800 earlier this school year. CCSD cases also make up a smaller percentage of Cherokee County’s overall cases, at 28% as compared to other counties in Georgia and nationwide where schools make up 60% or more of cases. As a result of both declining cases and increased interest in substitute teaching, CCSD’s substitute teacher pool has grown to more than 700 and the fill rate has increased to an 89% average without the use of the emergency plan to pull staff from the central office. Transportation staffing also has improved, with full-time bus driver positions all filled plus nine contingency drivers hired to serve as permanent substitutes, with additional contingency drivers in the training process;
- Heard an update from Dr. Hightower on plans to increase hourly rates for School Nutrition full-time workers, part-time workers and substitutes as well as After School Program workers and ExP extended learning program workers as a result of a market study rate. The announcement, with details of those rates, will be made Friday. The impact will be budget neutral due to increased student meal purchases and participation in ASP and increased federal reimbursements for meals and services;
- Heard a report on the SAT scores for the Class of 2021 released by the College Board this week, which show a 25 point increase from last year’s districtwide average. Scores continue to top State and National averages, and all CCSD high schools exceeded those averages; River Ridge HS students earned the highest overall average scores;
- Recognized the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States of America and the heroism of first-responders;
- Recognized the CCSD Police Department for earning State Certified Agency renewal. CCSD is one of only five school police departments in the State to hold this certification;
- Recognized Indian Knoll Elementary School as a 2021-22 Microsoft Showcase School. Only 38 schools were selected as Showcase Schools, and Indian Knoll ES is the only school in Georgia named to this year’s list;
- Recognized the CCSD 2021-22 Lead Innovation Zone Principals: Cherokee Innovation Zone: Rodney Larrotta, Cherokee HS; Creekview Innovation Zone: Dr. Richard Carnes, Creekland MS; Etowah Innovation Zone: Valerie Lowery, Boston ES; River Ridge Innovation Zone: Laura Akers, Johnston ES; Sequoyah Innovation Zone: Kim Cerasoli, Indian Knoll ES; and Woodstock Innovation Zone: Dr. Ashley Kennerly, Sixes ES.
- Approved a proclamation in honor of Constitution Week and the 234th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America;
- Approved the final reading to changes to School Board Policy: Internet Acceptable Use related to the new Career Pathway in cybersecurity;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved out-of-state and overnight field trips requests for students;
- Approved the monthly Capital Outlay Projects update; and,
- Approved the monthly personnel report.