ATLANTA, Ga. — With early voting underway, Fulton County voters are deciding whether to extend a 1-cent education sales tax to fund $1.2 billion in renovations and other needs in the school system over the next five years.
On the ballot alongside the choice for mayors and council members is the question of whether to continue the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for education for a sixth, 5-year term.
The education SPLOST tacks on a one-percent sales tax on all purchases in the county, with revenues divided between the Fulton County School System and Atlanta City Schools based on enrollment.
Fulton County School Board President Julia Bernath said the 1-percent sales tax for education is paid by everyone who spends money in the county, and not just the residents.
“The value [of SPLOST] means the burden of keeping up the school district does not fall solely on homeowners,” Bernath said. “Anyone who chooses to shop in Fulton County is supporting our schools.”
Fulton County Schools is projected to receive $1.2 billion in SPLOST funds over the five-year cycle ending in June 2027 should the measure pass.
The SPLOST has been the primary source of revenue for the district’s capital program since 1997 when the General Assembly approved the local funding mechanism. Prior to that, new construction and other capital needs were paid for by bonds and borrowing.
The current SPLOST “sunsets” on June 30, 2022. If approved, tax collections for the new SPLOST will begin the following day.
Funds used for Capital Plan 2027
Last spring, the Fulton County School Board approved the $1.2 billion Capital Plan 2027 which provides a blueprint for the district’s most pressing needs over the next five years. The plan was built around projected SPLOST revenues.
A comprehensive assessment of all facilities in the district was completed last year by the school district to establish priorities in the Capital Plan.
“This project list is inclusive of every grade level, elementary, middle and high,” said Noel Maloof, chief operations officer for Fulton County Schools. “It spans the entire district.”
Evaluators looked at everything outside and inside the schools, from the buildings to buses to “behind the scenes” functions like air conditioning and roofs that keep the buildings safe and operational, Maloof said.
The bulk of the $1.2 billion Capital Plan through 2027 is focused on bringing all schools up to acceptable standards. The facility assessment showed about 29 of the district’s 100 schools are in “very poor to fair” condition.
In the North Fulton region, the plan includes a hard look at Holcomb Bridge and Haynes Bridge middle schools. This could result in either replacement or reconfigurations of these older underpopulated schools, or the potential conversion to K-8 academies.
If voters reject the sales tax, the district must find alternate sources of revenue, including a millage increase, Maloof said, because the projects are critical.
Only items contained in the Capital Plan 2027, and approved by voters, can be funded through SPLOST proceeds, according to state law. This prevents school districts from redirecting SPLOST funds after approved by voters.
Since first approved by Fulton County voters in in 1997, the education sales tax has raised nearly $2.5 billion for the Fulton County School System. The 1-cent sales tax has allowed the system to fund capital programs, including new schools, without borrowing money.
In January, the Fulton County School System paid off its last remaining bond, which was issued in 1998.
In the North Fulton region, 20 schools have been built, or replaced, with SPLOST funding since 1997.