Voters will be asked in the Nov. 2 election whether they want to extend a sales tax for public education in Cherokee County by another five years. Thursday, Cherokee County Superintendent Brian Hightower outlined plans for a $290 million Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for 2023-2027, if voters approve the extension.

New Cherokee High SchoolThe largest proposed investment is $100 million for a replacement Cherokee High School. About $31.5 million will be reimbursed from the state government, of a total of $43.56 million in reimbursements, according to a district Ed-SPLOST report Hightower shared with school board members, which the Tribune received Friday.

The school district has about 87 acres on Reinhardt College Parkway at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Canton that it’s identified as the new location for the new school. Thursday, the Canton City Council voted to annex two acres of unincorporated land within that property into the city.

Cherokee High is both the district’s oldest and largest high school. The core buildings on the campus opened in 1956, according to the school district. Its student population, as of the 20-day count in late August, was 2,912. In 2018, Canton Elementary School next door was dissolved so the high school could absorb it to relieve overcrowding issues, and it became a freshman academy known as the Cherokee North annex.

Free Home ElementaryThe district hopes to use $22.5 million for a new Free Home Elementary School, according to the report. Two million dollars are expected to be reimbursed from the state.

In June, the school board voted to purchase land for a new Free Home Elementary School for $1.6 million. The site is near the current Free Home Elementary, at the corner of Highway 20 and Highway 372 near Ball Ground.

Free Home is the smallest school in the district. Without portables, the facility is designed to serve 250 students. Its enrollment was 309 as of the 20th day of school. Part of the current school property is slated to be part of an expanded Highway 20 planned by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Other proposed Ed-SPLOST projectsThe list also includes $12 million for a classroom additions and an auxiliary gym at Creekview High School, with a $4.5 million state reimbursement; $10 million for classroom additions at Creekland Middle School, with a $3.2 million reimbursement; $10 million for Phase 2 of renovations for athletic facility improvements at Etowah High School.

Other projects include a new professional development and training building on Keeter Road ($5.5 million), a new auxiliary gym at River Ridge High School ($5 million) and the first phase of athletic facility improvements at Sequoyah High School ($4.5 million).

Another $40 million is listed for “modifications/renovations”; there is also $15 million for transportation and bus purchases, $12 million for technology and $10 million for land acquisition.

The report also lists possible projects for another Ed-SPLOST, if it’s extended again for 2028-2032: $40 million on modifications and renovations, $10 million for land acquisition, renovations at Johnston Elementary School (cost to be determined), classroom additions at E.T. Booth ($10 million) and Teasley ($10 million) middle schools, athletic facility improvements at Sequoyah High School ($5 million), and turf replacement. (to be determined).

Cherokee County’s Ed-SPLOST is a 1% sales tax, which brings the county’s total sales tax to 6%. The school district has used proceeds from the penny sales tax to fund capital improvement projects for 24 years. Since the Ed-SPLOST was established, the district’s enrollment has nearly doubled from 24,400 to about 42,000 students, and the district has built 19 new schools.

“This is a continuation of our existing sales tax, and it’s a consumption tax that everyone pays for,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said in a statement. “When you see license plates from other counties and states at the outlet mall, they’re helping the Ed SPLOST.”

Of the $290 million expected collections over five years, the school district expects to use $50 million for “pay-as-you-go” projects, CCSD spokesperson Barbara Jacoby said. The remaining $240 million would be used to pay debt service on bonds. The “pay-as-you-go” projects will be determined annually based on actual collections and the district’s debt service fund balance.

Cherokee County boasts the lowest sales tax in Georgia, according to the school district. If property taxes were used instead of the Ed SPLOST, the difference would come out to a 5-mill increase. The district would also have to wait until property tax revenues were collected to fund construction and other projects.

Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques is the chair of the Education SPLOST committee. Brian Albrecht, President and CEO of Credit Union of Georgia and a CCSD graduate, is serving as the treasurer.

This year, the school district will not issue Tax Anticipation Notices this fall for short-term borrowing to bridge the gap until it receives local property tax revenue as it has in the past, according to CCSD, so the district will avoid having to pay associated interest with the borrowing.

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