Come March 19, Monroe County voters will decide whether to approve a new local option sales tax dedicated to education that would go into effect after the current one expires in 2014.
If approved, the tax would sunset after it raises $28 million or runs for five years, whichever comes first. School officials said their first priority is likely to be technology and safety upgrades.
Because more than half of Monroe Countys school funding comes from local rather than state dollars, the boost from the 1-percent sales tax -- commonly referred to as an E-LOST -- helps pay for projects in the district, said Jackson Daniel, Monroe Countys assistant superintendent of support services.
While planned security and building maintenance upgrades would happen regardless of whether voters approve a new E-LOST, the district wont be able to build a proposed $7.5 million fine arts center without it, he said.
A lot of the funding responsibility has shifted to local school systems, Daniel said. To continue to do the things that need to be done and the board is committed to doing ... youve got to have a way to fund those.
The proposed project list includes $1.2 million for technology upgrades for initiatives such as building wireless infrastructure in the countys schools, purchasing e-textbooks and beefing up security. If the tax is approved, school system officials plan to tackle those projects in the first year of the sales tax period, Daniel said.
Some of those security efforts may include installing cameras in school entrances and adopting technology that would limit visitor access, such as a card-swipe or fingerprint system.
These are all things were talking about, Daniel said.
While school safety efforts already were on Monroes project list, Daniel said they took on a more urgent focus after the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., left 20 students and six school employees dead, as well as the gunman.
School officials hope to get started early on those projects and others by using $12 million in bonds, Daniel said.
As the state continues to cut school funding, the E-LOST is critical for small counties such as Monroe County, said Phil Walker, who has served on the school board for 16 years. By relying on a sales tax, the school district generates money from Monroe Countys residents as well as from visitors, many who travel along Interstate 75 and stop for fuel, food or hotel rooms.
Its always seemed to me like a fairer way to do it than to tax homeowners completely, Walker said. We do get the benefit of the travelers coming through.
Walker said most of the feedback he has heard about the E-LOST has been remarkably good.
Beyond the planned first round of projects, other technology upgrades are expected to cost another $2.5 million.
Since the states student funding formula for school districts doesnt provide money for technology projects, the local sales tax helps the district move forward with upgrades, Daniel said.
The E-LOST becomes a very valuable thing when it comes to technology, he said.
Though it is not the districts highest priority, Monroe County schools proposed fine arts facility would seat 1,200 and would be the largest gathering space of its kind in the county if it is built.
School system officials have been considering space behind the school systems board offices, near the high schools football field, for the fine arts center, among other sites.
All the districts schools would be able to use the space, and Daniel said the fine arts center also could be used for community events.
An auditorium attached to Monroe Countys school board office seats 360 people, while the Roberts Chapel Auditorium at the Georgia Department of Corrections Tift College facility only seats about 400, Daniel said.
There is nothing of this size or scale, he said of the proposed fine arts center. If we need to (seat) the entire high school body at one time, we dont have anywhere to do that.
Other proposed improvements include $1.1 million in new carpeting and paint for Hubbard Elementary School and the Banks Stephens Middle School building. The middle school building is now housing Monroe County Middle Schools seventh- and eighth-graders.
Also on the list is an agriculture and animal science classroom that would cost $300,000. The classroom would give Mary Persons High School students the chance to engage in hands-on work with animals.
Efforts to get the E-LOST passed has received support from a local organization called Cultural and Academic Supporters of Excellence, which plans to host a Feb. 25 town hall meeting to discuss the E-LOST. That forum is scheduled to begin 6 p.m. at Forsyths Aldermen Hall.
Truett Goodwin, chairman of the group, said he supports the E-LOST because of his years-long dedication to public schools.
Goodwin and his wife enrolled their two children in Monroe County schools when the family moved to Forsyth in 1985.
During the almost 30 years since then, Goodwins children graduated from school system and built successful careers. One of his grandchildren now attends school in the district, too.
Goodwin said the aim of CASE is to help the school district provide resources for local students in whatever talents they have -- academic, athletic, artistic or agricultural.
I obviously have a vested interest in the quality of schools in Monroe County, he said.
The current E-LOST, which took effect in 2009 and is set to expire in May 2014, is capped at $27.8 million. Just more than half of that money was committed to building the $14 million K.B. Sutton Elementary School.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.