published Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Dade County education tax on ballot

Dade County Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin says Dade County schools have benefited from ESPLOST funding over the years.
Dade County Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin says Dade County schools have benefited from ESPLOST funding over the years.
Photo by Ben Benton.

KEY ELECTION DATES

Feb. 6: Voter registration ends

Feb. 13: In-person early voting begins

March 2: Early voting ends, last day to mail out ballots

March 5: No voting

March 6: Election day, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Source: Dade County Board of Elections

DADE AUSTERITY CUTS

Fiscal year — Austerity cut

2003 — $237,922

2004 — $499,354

2005 — $586,223

2006 — $586,218

2007 — $275,649

2008 — $231,907

2009 — $812,988

2010 — $1.45 million

2011 — $1.67 million

2012 — $1.76 million

Source: Dade County Schools

The 1 cent education special purpose local option sales tax Dade County voters have approved every election cycle since 1997 will appear again on the March 6 ballot, according to officials.

Dade County Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin says the tax has paid for repairs, expansions, buses and other improvements since voters first approved it 15 years ago.

Tobin, who's ethically required not to make a pitch for the sales tax for schools, instead points to its role as a revenue source in times when state funding cuts for Dade stand at more than $1.7 million in 2012.

Austerity cuts to the state's Quality Basic Education funding that began in 2003 will amount to more than $1.7 million this school year for Dade, according to Tobin. Dade's cuts have totaled more than $7 million since 2003, which limits the system's ability to hire staff, purchase equipment or make improvements, he said.

There are no plans to borrow money or issue bonds against the next education local option sales tax if it's passed, Tobin said. Dade's current tax, which runs out in April, still is funding ongoing renovations at the county's three school campuses through the summer, he said.

"We're looking at pay-as-you-go," he said of future spending.

"On our [March 6] referendum, we have items such as textbooks, band instruments, renovations for buildings, driver education vehicles, heating and air-conditioning repairs and so forth," Tobin said. But the idea is to save for big projects, then do them, he said.

School board member Carolyn Bradford said the local option tax funding has helped keep teachers by giving the system money for improvements and repairs without dipping heavily into the general fund.

A sales tax also spreads the burden, she said.

"The ESPLOST is not just coming from tshe people in Dade County, it's people who travel through," Bradford said.

Lowanna Vaughan, election supervisor in Dade County, said folks around town aren't talking about the March 6 ballot yet.

"I've not heard any chatter this time, but it's still a ways away," Vaughan said.

Dade's March 6 ballot will be fairly simple, she said.

"You've got the Republican candidates for president, and on the Democrats' side there's just President Obama. And both ballots will have the ESPLOST question," she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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