The Clarke County Board of Education has scheduled a referendum on November 2 to renew the 1% sales tax that funds capital projects for the school district. If approved by voters, the school district will raise at most $175 million over the next five years for projects including school construction and renovation while keeping county sales taxes steady at 8%.
The next round of school district capital funding would be called ESPLOST 6, which stands for Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Don’t let the acronym throw you — it simply means that the voters of Athens-Clarke County have the option to tax themselves (and visitors who shop here) to raise money for education-related special projects. This would be the sixth ESPLOST approved in Athens so far.
If rejected by voters, the county sales tax will fall to 7% and the school district will have to wait at least a year before trying again. If accepted, ESPLOST 6 will continue after the current ESPLOST ends next year, allowing Clarke County children to benefit from future capital projects.
What did ESPLOST 5 fund?
ESPLOST 5 is on pace to raise about $125 million before it expires in June next year. It has funded projects like the construction of Hilsman Middle School ($28 million), major renovations at Coile ($16 million) and BHL ($17 million) Middle Schools and sports facilities upgrades at Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals High Schools ($11 million). It also funded a large investment in technology ($18 million) including iPads and Chromebooks for students; laptops, projectors, computers and 3D Printers for teachers and improved mobile wireless infrastructure.
ESPLOST 5 funded a number of smaller projects as well, including HVAC upgrades, playground equipment, kitchen upgrades and custodial equipment.
What projects can we look forward to with ESPLOST 6?
ESPLOST 6 will include funding for an entirely new Clarke Middle School and major renovations or additions for Cedar Shoals High School, Gaines Elementary, Alps Road Elementary and Cleveland Road Elementary. It will also include technology improvements for all schools, such as support for digital learning, new software and modernized safety and security equipment. It will fund the purchase of new school buses to replace the old ones as they reach the end of their usable lifespans as well as upgraded custodial equipment and athletic facilities.
Essentially, ESPLOST funds the construction, renovation or purchase of all facilities, equipment, technology and vehicles which the school district relies upon to provide Athens-Clarke County children and teenagers with their education. If the ESPLOST referendum fails, the school district will have to make do with aging and outdated equipment, failing vehicles and crumbling facilities. There is no other major source of capital funding to support Athens-Clarke County schools.
When can we vote?
The ESPLOST 6 referendum will take place on November 2, 2021. Early voting will take place from October 12 – 29, Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm. Early voting will also include two Saturdays: October 16 and 23.
ESPLOST is the only item on the ballot for this election in most of Athens, but those living in Winterville also have one seat on the city council which is being contested. Incumbent Gary Snow will face off against challengers Mark Farmer and Bruce Johnson.