The tax, called ESPLOST (for education special purpose local option sales tax), was established by the Georgia legislature in 1996. It is used exclusively for capital projects, such as constructing buildings, renovations to existing buildings, the purchase of buses and more.
The Walker County and Chickamauga school systems have been collecting the tax since 1997.
ESPLOST is separate from the one-cent sales taxes levied by county governments. That tax is known as SPLOST (for special purpose local option sales tax).
For the new Walker County-Chickamauga ESPLOST, voters can cast early ballots through Friday at the Walker County Courthouse between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Photo identification is required. On Tuesday, all of Walker County’s 11 voting precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
If continuation of the Walker County ESPLOST is approved by voters, the tax will continue for either five years or until it collects $32.5 million, whichever comes first.
“This is not a new tax,” said Melissa Mathis, superintendent of the Walker County school system. “It is one we have had in place for many years now. The evidences of the importance and the improvements that are being made, are simply visible by driving around our county, and seeing the capital improvements that are made.”
Walker County school system
The Walker County school system could receive up to $28.2 million (of the $32.5 million), if the maximum collection were reached.
Since 1997 ESPLOST funds have helped pay for six new schools.
Walker County receives a larger portion of the ESPLOST than the Chickamauga school system, because it serves more students. The system has nine elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.
At the top of Walker County’s five-year facilities plan is the continuation of additions to schools, renovating, remodeling, and equipping five schools that have seen a dramatic rise in students in recent years.
Those five schools are Rossville Elementary, LaFayette High, Chattanooga Valley Elementary, North LaFayette Elementary, and LaFayette Middle.
Two of the newest schools, Chattanooga Valley and Rossville Middle, need acoustical tiles and renovations to make the gymnasiums serve a second purpose as auditoriums.
Other items on the lengthy list for facility improvements include athletic facilities, parking lots, new buses, new roofs for LaFayette High School and North LaFayette Elementary, and a new high school.
A 2006 ESPLOST vote approved a new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in Rock Spring, resulting in the 2008 purchase of 95 acres in Rock Spring for the future K-8 school, and could also house the county’s next high school, if the new ESPLOST is approved.
Initial consideration for the K-8 school is toward a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, while the high school’s central location could follow that career-driven path.
The new high school will not happen, and the K-8 school would take significantly longer to build, without ESPLOST funds, according to Mathis.
“You have to keep your educational system current,” said Henry Gilbert, treasurer of Walker County for Quality Schools. “Anything that will help the children learn and grow, will help the community.”
Chickamauga school system
The Chickamauga school system could receive up to $4.32 million (of the $32.5 million), if the maximum collection were reached.
Since the initial ESPLOST, the Chickamauga school system has constructed and equipped the Arthur E. Yates building, a state-of-the-art math and science facility, provided additions to both the elementary and middle schools, and expanded smart board technology, along with a variety of other programs.
Constructing and equipping a health occupations facility for a developing career program would be the biggest pursuit.
In the past two years, 30-50 percent of Gordon Lee High graduates had career interests in the medical field, a trend that administrators have noticed and plan to embrace, since the field is in demand.
The program will fit with the educational focus on career pathways, allowing determined students to focus on a specific track prior to arriving at college.
“If the ESPLOST passes, this project would most definitely be our top priority and could become a reality as soon as 2013,” said Melody Day, superintendent of Chickamauga schools.
If the program develops, a high school student could graduate with a diploma and a certificate as a nursing assistant.
“It is a very good tax and it is a fair tax,” Gordon Lee High principal Randy Barker said about ESPLOST. “Without it, major school improvements could not have been financed.”
Chickamauga officials are also interested in obtaining a parental notification system, similar to Walker’s SchoolCast system, which uses texting, emails and landlines to send messages to parents.
Other projects include rolling science labs, driver simulators, new technology and equipment, security improvements, and continued remodeling and renovations to the historic campus that began in 1930.
Major ESPLOST projects recently completed
Rossville Middle School, $13,485,364
Ridgeland High School renovation, $4,332,532
Rock Spring Elementary addition, $2,170,539
Naomi Elementary addition, $1,705,968
Walker County voting sites
· Armuchee Valley precinct (combined east and west Armuchee precincts), Armuchee Valley Community Center at 11471 E. Ga. 136, LaFayette
Center Post precinct (formerly Wilson and Cane Creek), Center Post Community Center 8125 Ga. 337, LaFayette
· Chattanooga Valley precinct (includes former Wallaceville precinct), Chattanooga Valley Nazarene Church at 2853 Chattanooga Valley Road, Flintstone
· Chickamauga precinct (which now includes Pond Springs precinct), Chickamauga Civic Center at 110 Euclid Ave., Chickamauga
· Fairview precinct, Fairview Fire Hall at 207 Jenkins Road, Rossville
· Fairyland precinct, Lookout Mountain City Hall at 1214 Lula Lake Road, Lookout Mountain
· Kensington precinct (including former Cedar Grove precinct), Kensington Fire Hall at 4995 Kensington Road, Chickamauga
· LaFayette precinct, LaFayette Senior Center, 636 S. Main St., LaFayette
· Mount Pleasant precinct (includes Daugherty precinct), Mount Pleasant Community Center at 5270 Ga. 157, Rising Fawn
· Rock Spring precinct (includes former Chestnut Flat and Peavine precincts), Rock Spring AA building at 322 Ga. 95, Rock Spring
· Rossville precinct, Rossville Municipal Civic Center at 400 McFarland Ave., Rossville