The tax, known as ESPLOST for educational special purpose local option sales tax, has been collected in both counties since 1997.
Today voters will decide whether to continue the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax. The money can be used only for capital improvement projects, such as constructing new buildings or renovating existing buildings. The money cannot be used for day-day-to expenses, such as salaries.
In Walker County the tax, if approved by voters, will continue for five more years or until it collects $32.5 million, whichever comes first. Walker County has two separate school systems: the county system with 14 schools and the much smaller Chickamauga city system with three schools. The money will be divided, based on student enrollment, between the systems. The Walker system could receive up to $28.2 million of the $32.5 million, if the maximum is collected, while the Chickamauga school system could receive up to $4.32 million. It is highly unlikely that the maximum collection will be reached before five years.
In Catoosa County the tax, if approved by voters, will continue for five more years or until it collects $79 million, whichever comes first. It is highly unlikely the maximum collection will be reached before five years.
Voting sites will be open until 7 p.m.
Each of the school systems has outlined how it plans to spend the money.
Walker County school system
At the top of Walker County’s plans 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 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 today.
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.
Chickamauga school system
Constructing and equipping a health occupations facility for a developing career program will 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.
Catoosa County school system
The school system will use the funds primarily for technology upgrades and structural improvements and additions. Proposed improvements include an auditorium on the Ringgold High School and Middle School campus, and improvements to classrooms and expansion projects at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School and West Side Elementary.