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Pennies Add Up to Great Thoughts

Last Updated: 9/28/2021 2:46 PM

By Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Superintendent of Schools

Pennies add up to many great thoughts in our School District.

For more than 20 years, pennies have funded our School District’s growth to ensure every child in our community can receive an outstanding public education.

When you make a purchase on which you pay sales tax in Cherokee County, you invest a penny on every dollar into our schools … and into the future of our community.  

More than 95 percent of all Georgia counties pay 7 or 8 percent sales tax for a variety of needs.  In Cherokee, we pay only 6 percent total sales tax for State and county government needs, and one of those pennies goes directly to our schools through the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or Ed SPLOST for short.  At a competitive 6%, our sales tax is among the lowest in Georgia. 

A Blue Ribbon Committee of business, civic and elected leaders in 2000 recommended our community use an Ed SPLOST to build a better school district during unprecedented growth in the county.  Voters agreed and since have voted three times to continue the Ed SPLOST.  In the last renewal, 73% voted YES to renew the Ed SPLOST.

We’ve wisely invested these pennies over the past 20 years, and this fall -- from early voting beginning Oct. 12, 2021 through Election Day on Nov. 2, 2021, you’ll be asked on your ballot whether to continue the Ed SPLOST for another five years.  Aside from city issues in Ball Ground and Canton, there will be no other issues on the ballot, so if public education is important to you – as I hope it is – please take a minute and make a plan to vote.

I can’t tell you how to vote, but I can tell you all that Ed SPLOST has done to help our students and what we’ll do with the funding if it’s renewed.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve built 19 new and replacement schools to keep up with our community’s rapid growth.  We also renovated and expanded older schools to ensure that every child attends a safe and updated school, no matter their ZIP code.

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.

During the last two decades, we also constructed world-class technology infrastructure and equipped classrooms with outstanding devices and connectivity; we purchased new school buses to replace aging and non-air-conditioned vehicles; and we acquired land for new schools as housing growth continues in our community, as it does throughout the metro area.

If the current 1% Ed SPLOST is continued, the proceeds will be used to fund:

•  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 Ed SPLOST 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.

•  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.

•  Continued investment in technology.  With minimal State funding for technology, Ed SPLOST remains a main revenue source for infrastructure improvements and classroom hardware.

•  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.

•  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.

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.  The Ed SPLOST offers our community the option of funding these needs through a tax that visitors and residents alike pay based on purchases instead of solely by property owners through a property tax increase.

School Board Chair Kyla Cromer recently made this observation: as you shop in our community, look at the license plates in the parking lot … you’ll see many from other counties and states who are helping keep our tax burden low -- and our schools among the best in our nation!