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The Catoosa County Board of Education voted on Nov. 3 to approve various new Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects after receiving feedback from hundreds of constituents.

While the community's final say on whether or not the 1-cent sales tax is approved will come in March, the school board spent the last several weeks collecting commentary from members of the community to decide on what to include in the ESPLOST referendum, which will occur during local elections.

Usually, according to district Superintendent Denia Reese, the county would hold in-person meetings, but due to coronavirus concerns, the school board produced a video that got over 800 views and garnered more than 500 emails offering feedback.

"The Catoosa County Board of Education has always valued community input regarding any decision that impacted the quality of education for the school system's students," Reese wrote in a statement.

She expects that this ESPLOST cycle, if approved, will bring in approximately $40 million to fund various district-wide projects including technology, infrastructure, safety and facility upgrades. Funds from each five-year tax cycle are earmarked for capital outlay expenditures to enhance the experience of the district's more than 10,000 students.

According to the district's website, a major investment sought from the 2021-2026 ESPLOST will be the acquisition of new devices such as iPads and Chromebooks for all students, as well as updates to other classroom technology to prepare students "for success in a technology-driven global economy."

In addition to technology, two large projects would provide more equity across facilities in the county.

One of the most advocated-for projects is the construction of a theater at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School, Reese reported. According to minutes from the last input meeting, over 345 commenters expressed their support.

"While the Board received an overwhelming number of positive responses, the greatest support was for the LFO Auditorium," Reese wrote. "Since the other two high schools have theaters, I expect the Lakeview Community is very interested in this project that will complete facility equitability projects at LFO. Additionally, the theater will serve students from all of LFO's feeder schools and the Lakeview community."

The county is also seeking to renovate Boynton Elementary School, now the oldest elementary school in the district after the completion of construction in other schools.

According to the district's website, Boynton has the largest enrollment and the new ESPLOST would fund the first phase of its revitalization — adding a new classroom — while in the future there are plans to demolish and rebuild the building.

ESPLOST VI would also include routine facility maintenance and safety projects district-wide.

The final major project that would be supported would be the From Here to Career College and Career Academy which has been in the works since 2017.

The academy had its first cohort this fall, allowing students to dual-enroll in college courses to learn transferable academic and technical skills, the website states.

The county is seeking to build a campus for the brand-new academy, combining ESPLOST funding with a $3 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia earmarked for the new building. The campus would offer students from across the district the opportunity to receive workforce-targeted education in pathways including Nursing, Sports Medicine and Therapeutic Services; Architecture and Construction; and more.

Contact Tierra Hayes at tierrathejournalist@gmail.com.

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