FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – Declining sales tax revenues have taken a toll on the receipts under the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST), with revised estimates down to $742.5 million over the five-year period ending in 2017.
The one-cent sales tax for education purposes was originally estimated to bring in up to $900 million between 2012 and 2017 for new school construction, renovations and technology. This is the fourth SPLOST cycle since the one-cent tax was approved by voters in 1998.
Despite the dip in revenue, school system planners are moving forward with an ambitious schedule of projects, which planners note will likely “touch every school in the system.”
Patrick Burke, deputy superintendent of operations for Fulton Schools, said a facilities assessment was completed at every school in the system two years ago, and schools were prioritized into four “waves.” Projects will be completed in order of priority until the funds are depleted.
“Every adjustment [to the revenue projections], every little bit, has an impact on the program,” said Burke during an April 9 presentation to the Fulton School Board.
On the positive side, classroom space has nearly caught up with enrollment growth, thanks to prior SPLOST initiatives that brought dozens of new schools to Fulton County. In the current SPLOST IV, the focus is less on new construction and more on renovations, additions and upgrades to technology.
In North Fulton, the only new school scheduled to be built is actually a replacement for an existing school. Esther Jackson Elementary in Roswell, off Holcomb Bridge Road, will be torn down and rebuilt on its current site with an opening scheduled in 2016.
With construction on the new school to begin in late 2014, students will be moved into a “swing” school for approximately 18 months while the new school is built. Land for the swing school is in the final stages of acquisition on a site near the existing school.
Although the SPLOST IV included plans for a new middle school in North Fulton, enrollment growth did not justify it. Instead, additions are planned for four middle schools to accommodate the students where they currently are, and avoid redistricting.
Additions will be complete in the summer of 2015 at Autrey Mill, Crabapple, Taylor Road and Hopewell middle schools.
A planned addition to Creek View Elementary School off Webb Bridge Road in Alpharetta has been put on hold because of low enrollment growth, said Burke.
System-wide projects currently planned include gym floor replacements at the 23 schools that currently do not have the “sports” flooring; playground equipment upgrades at 40 schools and enhanced security equipment at local schools.
Burke said parents have been extremely vocal about the need for additional security, especially following the events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
“We received a lot of emails about safety and security this year,” acknowledged Burke. “We assembled an advisory team that looked at solutions to better secure the school buildings [and] we are going to start pushing these [ideas] out.”
Those enhancements will include a visitor identification component, with an intercom and video system to provide better security at the front of the building. Burke said the system is also looking at a keyed entry at schools that have portables, to avoid doors being “propped open” between the portables and the main classroom.
Several projects also remain to be completed from previous SPLOST campaigns, with most relatively minor additions and renovations. In North Fulton, the projects include:
- New north maintenance facility (completion date in 2015);
- HVAC improvements at Roswell North ES (completion date in summer 2013);
- Gym lighting upgrades at Centennial, Chattahoochee and Roswell high schools (fall 2013);
- Northview HS band addition/softball concession (spring 2014).