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Editorial: 'Yes' vote on E-SPLOST is a pennywise choice
Sales tax for school needs is a no-brainer to meet local systems anticipated growth
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Early voting

Where: Hall County Elections Office, lower level, Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Oct. 30.

Saturday voting: Voters may cast ballots 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24 at the North Hall Community Center, 4175 Nopone Road, or Spout Springs Library, 6488 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch

It’s not hard to make a case to boost public spending for schools. Among all of the government-funded needs, education ranks near the top, along with public safety, in the eyes of most taxpayers as vital services that can’t be done on the cheap. As long as local school systems keep growing, the need for more infrastructure, equipment and teachers remains a high priority.

That’s why local education, governmental and business officials have banded together in support of extending the special purpose local option sales tax for schools now on the ballot in Hall County. Early voting is underway and runs through Oct. 30, including Oct. 24 Saturday voting. Election Day is Nov. 3.

The fifth extension of the E-SPLOST is expected to earn $110 million to $140 million for the Hall, Gainesville and Buford school districts if approved. The funds go to pay for school needs that go above and beyond what is collected from local taxes. All revenues dropped during the Great Recession, and schools, like other branches of government, had to make severe budget cuts that affected the quality of learning. Classroom sizes were increased, teacher pay frozen and construction work delayed until an improved economy could return funding to previous levels.

Now the economy has rebounded and tax revenues are again on the rise, making this the ideal time to address the systems’ growth needs. Business leaders are on board, knowing how public infrastructure such as good schools, roads, parks and libraries increases the odds of luring new industry to the area.

The money raised by the next E-SPLOST is expected to provide for the following:

• $30 million to $50 million for more classrooms. In Gainesville, enrollment is up about 5 percent from last year and more than 6 percent from two years ago. Hall’s overall enrollment is only up slightly, but schools in South Hall are growing at a much faster rate and heavily overcrowded. Congestion already is overwhelming Johnson and Flowery Branch high schools and their feeder schools, and new residential growth is on the way. Modular units, or “trailers” as most of us call them, should only be a temporary solution, not permanent class space. The best way to stay ahead of such growth is to expand school facilities in areas that need them most.

 $30 million-100 million for renovations and infrastructure upgrades to older buildings, including heating and air conditioning, roof replacement and the like. Kids can’t learn in a classroom that is too hot, too cold or leaking rainwater.

 $20 million-30 million for classroom technology improvements. Part of this in Hall would be to install interactive wireless projectors in classrooms, gyms and media centers.

As students prepare to enter a 21st century workforce, they need the latest high-level computers and audio-visual equipment. As anyone who works in an office with such needs can attest, such upgrades must be constant in order to keep up.

 $12 million-20 million for fine arts facilities at East Hall, Johnson and West Hall high schools, along with $1-$3 million for band instruments. Art and music enrichment are among subjects schools often cut, but a well-rounded education should include more than math and science.

 $4 million-8 million for new school buses. Deteriorating older school buses carrying children over treacherous rural roads is a recipe for disaster. Enough said.

 $2 million-4 million for library additions, both books and electronic resources. A fully-stocked media center gives all students access to learning tools, particularly those who lack them at home.

It’s hard to argue with any of these needs. The key, however, is to ensure the money taken in is spent wisely and only on these needs designated in advance when residents vote.

With the general fund SPLOST passed by voters in March, Hall and Gainesville officials set up an oversight committee to ensure money is used properly and not diverted into other areas. Such a panel is not planned for E-SPLOST, but school boards should be just as transparent in letting residents know how money is being used, and residents should hold them to their promises.

The benefit of a sales tax is that all who buy here help pay it, including nonresidents who work, visit or just pass through Hall County. A penny of every dollar spent on gasoline, food, retail goods or just a corndog at a fall festival helps local students while easing the burden on property taxpayers.

In addition, maintaining sales tax revenue for these needs allows school systems to pay down debt, freeing up more money for educational needs down the road.

“I’m pretty proud of what that penny has done here,” Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said recently.

We agree. The special sales tax is a smart way to pay for key priorities and spread the burden equitably. It’s clear these items will need to be paid for somehow; without the sales tax, that can only come from higher property taxes, which no one wants. This is the best solution.

Our county is again moving in the right direction after the economic downturn, with commercial and residential growth again ramping up. It is a wise investment to provide the high-quality schools local residents, prospective business owners, workers and parents want and need.

E-SPLOST is the smart way to provide it, and we urge voters to keep it in place with their “yes” votes.

To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor Keith Albertson.

Early voting

Where: Hall County Elections Office, lower level, Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Oct. 30.

Saturday voting: Voters may cast ballots 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24 at the North Hall Community Center, 4175 Nopone Road, or Spout Springs Library, 6488 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch

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