The Covington News - - Front page -

re­serve — is $5.5 mil­lion and even with that amount and the roughly $10 mil­lion in cuts that have been rec­om­mended, that would leave the NCSS with a bal­anced bud­get and no money in the bank. Gen­er­ally, the NCSS has a 5-9 per­cent end­ing fund bal­ance, which is needed not only to keep the school sys­tem from bor­row­ing money but also for pay­ing salaries, ben­e­fits and other ex­penses in the sum­mer un­til tax col­lec­tions come in.

They are also needed in or­der to main­tain the sys­tem’s AA+ bond­ing rat­ing and to help with un­ex­pected mid-year cuts in state and lo­cal funds — much like what have been ex­pe­ri­enced this year.

“An­swer­ing ques­tions posed to him by his con­stituents with ‘let them use their end­ing fund bal­ance’ does not ad­dress the real ques­tions,” said Sherri Viniard, Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Re­la­tions for the NCSS. “Why is the state not meet­ing its obli­ga­tion to sup­port pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion by pur­su­ing a tax pol­icy which does not sup­port the pro­grams for which it has a le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity — ed­u­ca­tion be­ing one of those?”

Many par­ents are also ques­tion­ing why the NCSS is plan­ning to build more schools when the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is so dire. The sim­ple an­swer is SPLOST.

The Spe­cial Pur­pose Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax is the one cent tax col­lected from sales tax in Newton County. In Septem­ber 2007, Newton County vot­ers voted to ap­prove the SPLOST but that it could only be used on con­struc­tion of new fa­cil­i­ties, ren­o­va­tion of ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties, lease of buses, technology, re­duc­tion in debt ser­vice and other build­in­gre­lated ex­penses. Per state law the rev­enue col­lected from SPLOST can only be used for these things.

Ac­cord­ing to Viniard the sys­tem con­tin­ues to build schools be­cause the sys­tem con­tin­ues to grow. The NCSS is re­quired to have a five-year fa­cil­i­ties plan in or­der to re­ceive state money for new con­struc­tion (about 40 per­cent of the con­struc­tion cost) and the ren­o­va­tion of ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

The sys­tem was grow­ing by around 1,400 stu­dents a year but has slowed down, though en­roll­ment con­tin­ues to in­crease. The stu­dent pop­u­la­tion has grown by about 300 this year and en­roll­ment is ex­pected to in­crease by ap­prox­i­mately 400 next year just in the high schools.

“Only SPLOST and bond money for con­struc­tion along with state funds can be used for school con­struc­tion,” said Viniard. “Build­ing costs are very low now in com­par­i­son to past years. That is why we con­tin­ued with the build­ing pro­gram and the bid for the con­tract for ele­men­tary school num­ber 15.”

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