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Learnard joins Dienhart in supporting ESPLOST vote

Another member of the Peachtree City Council has stuck her neck out in favor of extending the proposed educational sales tax (ESPLOST) for another five years for the Fayette County School System.

At the end of Thursday’s council meeting, Kim Learnard said she would vote for the ESPLOST, in large part because the provision to pay down school system debt has lowered property taxes across the board over the past several years.

Councilman George Dienhart, who has already voiced his support for ESPLOST, noted that he “tends” to dislike voting for any tax, but the cost savings from the bond millage rate rollback helps.

More importantly, Dienhart said, the school system is facing some $20 million in cuts for the upcoming school year, and if the ESPLOST fails, the shortfall will double to about $40 million.

“Please give us some consideration and think about the fact that you get to invest in some of the best schools in Georgia right now,” Dienhart said. “Let’s keep them that way.”

Dienhart noted that one new school board member has already been elected and another new member may win election this November as well.

The Fayette County School System this week released a list of how it will spend the projected $95 million in revenue from the ESPLOST as follows:

• 39 percent for curriculum, instruction and technology.

• 37 percent for maintenance, renovations and modifications — but NOT artificial turf for stadiums.

• Slightly under 14 percent for things like school buses, classroom and administrative furniture, and surveillance cameras.

• Slightly under 11 percent to pay down bond debt.

The Fayette County Board of Education recently approved the ballot measure that carries a maximum ceiling of $107 million over a 5-year collection period.

Collections for the current ESPLOST will end next year. So far the ESPLOST funds have been used to add technology improvements to schools, purchase textbooks and school buses, and also to pay down the school’s bonded debt, which has resulted in a lowering of the school debt service millage rate over the past several years.

The lowering of the debt service millage rate has reduced the property taxes for a $250,000 home by $434, according to school officials.

Among the technology improvements to schools has been the adoption of a computerized grading system that automatically notifies parents via email when their child has a failing grade in a class or has a zero for an assignment. Also several local schools have been outfitted with restricted Internet access to enhance learning through the “bring your own technology” program, and schools have also been able to adopt remote control devices called “student responders” which allow students to become more active in learning by answering multiple choice questions posed to the entire class.

The school system has also used the E-SPLOST to purchase 36 new school buses, add security video cameras to other buses, officials have said.

E-SPLOST proceeds also have been used to the tune of $12.2 million to pay down bond-financed projects and in turn reduce the millage rate for that indebtedness, officials have said.

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