THOMASVILLE -- The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, a 1 percent tax on local purchases, has made a big difference in the way area school systems improve and grow.

By approving a one cent sales tax, Thomasville, Thomas County and Grady County voters have created new and welcome revenue for their school systems.

SPLOST funds are primarily used for capital outlay projects, construction and improvements to local schools. The money generated from the tax can also be used for technology purchases, school buses and some maintenance costs.

Funds associated with SPLOST cannot be used for general operating expenditures, such as teacher and administration salaries, and must be approved through referendums voted on by the public.

Grady County voters approved SPLOST for another five years in a special referendum Tuesday, after some $8 million has been generated for the Grady County School System since the tax was first approved in 2000.

That funding was used to renovate Washington Middle School, and build PE complexes at Southside and Eastside elementary schools.

SPLOST funding also allowed Grady County to add classrooms at most of its schools, and will pay for the renovation of Cairo High School's auditorium.

Grady County Schools expects to generate an estimated $13 million over the next five years, and will use those funds for more improvements. Shiver Elementary School, built in 1956, will receive extensive renovations for the first time, and 50 new classrooms will be added to Grady County's elementary schools.

Thomasville City Schools and Thomas County Schools share SPLOST funding based on student enrollment. When SPLOST was approved in 2002, the county system's enrollment entitled it to 65 percent of the funding over five years.

Thomasville City Schools are entitled to about 35 percent of the money derived from SPLOST.

However, since those funds don't come in one lump sum, both school systems sold bonds to pay for capital projects. Payments are made on the bonds as SPLOST money is collected.

The city school system sold bonds totaling approximately $7.8 million, plus interest, and expects to make the final payment on those bonds in March of 2008. With that funding, Thomasville schools have received improvements and renovations they may not have seen otherwise.

A new roof was put on Thomasville High School, and a new classroom building will soon be constructed using funds generated through SPLOST. There are also plans to expand the band room at the high school.

MacIntyre Park Middle school was completely renovated using SPLOST funding, a project that included new air conditioning, new lighting, a new gymnasium and new dressing rooms. The school will soon get a new roof through SPLOST funding as well.

Harper Elementary was renovated and received a new roof, and new roofs will soon be put on Jerger and Scott elementary schools. New restrooms are also in the works for Jerger, new air conditioning has been installed at all Thomasville School kitchens, and two new school buses will soon be purchased, all through funds from SPLOST.

The Thomas County School System sold bonds totaling $15 million, and expects to pay off those bonds and the interest by December of 2007. Those funds are being used in the construction of the new Central Middle School and the new Hand-In-Hand Primary School, which got underway this year.

The two new schools are necessary because they will alleviate crowding at Cross Creek and Garrison-Pilcher elementary schools, Thomas County School superintendent Dr. Larry Green said. When Georgia House Bill 1187, an education reform initiative, was passed, it called for a reduction in class sizes, creating a need for space at Thomas County Schools.

"When we started reducing our class sizes, we ran out of classroom space. That's why we added portable classrooms," Green said. "At the same time, the (state) Board of Education, in looking at our facilities, determined that our current middle school -- which historically has been an elementary school, high school and now a middle school -- because of the condition and the age of the building, would no longer qualify for any type of capital expenditure funds."

Because renovations at Central Middle School could not be paid for using SPLOST dollars, new facilities became top priorities for the school system.

"These two new schools will eliminate crowding at Garrison-Pilcher and Cross Creek," Green said.

When presenting a SPLOST referendum, school systems must make it clear to the public how the funds will be used.

"When the vote passed that allowed us to get SPLOST, there was also a vote to allow us to issue bonds for an amount that we knew would come in from SPLOST," Thomas County Schools financial director Joey Holland said.

"We sold $15 million in bonds right up front, before the first dollar was collected," he said. "So the collections that are coming in are going to pay those bonds back, $15 million, plus interest."

Through September, the Thomas County School System has collected $5.9 million from SPLOST, and averages $315,000 in collections monthly. Thomasville and Thomas County Schools can present a referendum to continue SPLOST in 2007, however, it has yet to be determined by either school whether they will ask to extend SPLOST or not.

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