Free Home Elementary

The Cherokee County Board of Education will consider a contract to purchase nearly 41 acres of land in the Free Home community from the county government. The land is proposed to be the site of a new Free Home Elementary School.

The Cherokee County Board of Education is expected to vote Thursday on whether to purchase nearly 41 acres for a potential new Free Home Elementary School.

June 1, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners agreed to sell the land to the school district for about $1.6 million. The site is near the current Free Home Elementary, at the corner of Highway 20 and Highway 372 near Ball Ground.

The contract, on the school board’s Thursday meeting agenda, calls for the school district to put down $1,000 for the land, which will count toward the final purchase price of the overall property. It allows 90 days for the school system to inspect the property and make sure it meets with their satisfaction, while the county would have 10 days to respond to any complaints the school system might have about the location.

Free Home is the smallest school in the district. In March, there were just 290 students enrolled there, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education.

School board members will also be asked to vote on a proposed $567 million budget, which includes new teacher positions and raises for employees.

The budget adds up to 125 new teachers to support “supplemental learning opportunities” and 30 more to address growth in certain areas like career pathways, two school nurses, two school psychologists and one social worker, according to the school district. It also adds new district staff for student social and emotional learning initiatives, and one staff member for the federal Title I program. The budget invests $7.9 million in longevity step increases and a one percent cost of living raise for eligible employees.

The proposed budget, up from this year’s $520 million budget, calls for the millage rate to stay at 19.45 mills. Of that, 1.25 mills is dedicated to go toward repaying school district bonds. Although the rate is the same, it represents a 5.28% tax increase due to rising property values. To collect the same amount in revenue as last year, the school district would have to set a rate at 17.287 mills.

Budget hearings will be held at 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Thursday prior to the school board meeting. An initial hearing was held June 9.

The school board will also consider a call for a referendum in the Nov. 2 election to renew the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for another five years after the current one expires at the end of 2022. Since Cherokee’s Ed-SPLOST was established, Cherokee County School District has used a combination of sales tax dollars and bonds to fund capital projects, like new schools and upgrades to school buildings.

The referendum asks voters to consider extending the one-percent sales tax. The extension would authorize the school district to issue up to $290 million in bonds over the five-year period, and raise up to that amount in sales tax to pay off past and current bonds and fund approved projects.

Projects funded by the current Ed-SPLOST include the new Free Home Elementary, a multi-year replacement project for Cherokee High School, a new instructional wing and auxiliary gymnasium at Creekview High School and a new instructional wing at Creekland Middle School.

A list of projects to be used in the next Ed-SPLOST, if approved by Cherokee County voters in November, is expected to be finalized later this summer or early in the fall, Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby told the Tribune.

The school board meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Dr. Frank R. Petruzielo Educational Services Facility, 1205 Bluffs Parkway in Canton. It will also be streamed online on the school district’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/c/CherokeeGASchools.

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Shannon Ballew is the managing editor at the Cherokee Tribune and the Cherokee Ledger-News. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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