At its monthly work session Monday, the Board of Dducation approved a tentative budget for fiscal year 2011, approved a huge technology project and started discussing the possibility of a 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax referendum.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield started the SPLOST discussion when he heard Gainesville City Schools considered the referendum last week to start building a new Fair Street elementary school building. To enact a new SPLOST for schools, Gainesville City, Buford City and Hall County schools must agree to work together and split the funds.
A vote on the SPLOST could come as early as this November or could be next March or July, and board members were hesitant to give initial opinions.
"We’re fortunate the public has supported all of our SPLOST requests," board Chairman Richard Higgins said. "We’ve made good use of the money, but if there’s any time to get a negative response, it would be now."
With a long ballot in November, board members are leaning toward March as the best time to place the referendum up for a vote. If the referendum doesn’t pass, the board must wait a year before asking again. The current SPLOST III for schools will run out by November 2012, and a March vote would prevent a break in funding, board member Sam Chapman said.
"Never before have we been in such an anti-tax sentiment, but I think the population understands," Schofield said. "We’ve had an awful lot of relief with the SPLOST, not having to sell bonds to build school facilities."
The board approved a tentative budget, which includes about $198 million in general fund revenues and about $194 million in general fund expenditures. This tentative budget, required by the state Department of Education before July 1, includes cuts made by eight furlough days. The final budget will be moved before the board on June 28.
The board also approved the use of Qualified School Construction Bonds to create a wireless cloud for all schools by December 17.
The bonds were included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to allow states to support schools looking to add equipment and repair schools, but the school system is just now receiving the funding to support wireless Internet and videoconferencing tools.
Flowery Branch High School, C.W. Davis Middle School and the World Language Academy should see the clouds in place by the end of June, and other schools will receive implementation throughout the fall.
"This is it. Six months ago this board said they wanted this by the fall," Schofield said. "Before, if you had 11 students at one school who wanted to take Advanced Placement Physics and three students at another, we couldn’t do it. Now, we can. Schools are now sharing teachers, and this gives us the infrastructure to be more efficient."