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How sales tax change could help Gainesville, Hall school systems
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The Gainesville Board of Education at an Oct. 15, 2018, meeting discusses Amendment 5, which appears on the Nov. 6 ballot and would change rules regarding education special purpose local option sales taxes. - photo by Joshua Silavent

Officials with Gainesville City Schools are throwing their support behind a referendum on this year’s ballot that would allow Hall County Schools, the largest school district of three in the area, to alone call for a vote on a one penny sales tax to support public education.

“It’s important to Hall County and it’s important to Gainesville City Schools,” Gainesville Board of Education member Sammy Smith said at a meeting on Monday, Oct. 15.

Currently, Gainesville, Hall and Buford school districts have to mutually agree to put a special purpose local option sales tax up for a vote.

Gainesville Superintendent Jeremy Williams said this has presented challenges in negotiations over how to divide sales tax funding in the past.

If approved, however, Constitutional Amendment 5 will hand this authority off to the Hall system, which has the largest enrollment at about 28,000 students, compared with about 8,500 at Gainesville, and about 2,300 at Buford.

It would also divvy sales tax proceeds based on the portion of student enrollment residing in Hall. Because the city of Buford spans both Hall and Gwinnett counties, for example, it would only receive a share equal to the students it serves from Hall.

The amendment reads: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?

If the amendment fails, the mutual agreement process will stay in place.

“To me, it’s a much bigger issue than just Hall County,” Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said, adding that changes to legislative verbiage are long overdue.

“We probably should have been doing this the whole time,” Schofield said. “We certainly would be in favor of that, and not because of any local politics.”