VALDOSTA – Members of the Lowndes–Valdosta ESPLOST Committee joined school board members from both systems to speak to the community during a public forum Thursday about the need to extend the 1-cent education sales tax in an upcoming special election.

Continuing a community-wide campaign to raise voter awareness of the Education Special Local Options Sales Tax, the joint committee of city and county representatives outlined a list of construction, renovation and improvement projects made possible over the last decade through the local tax and shared a vision of the projects hoped to be accomplished in the future if ESPLOST 3 is approved.

“For education to be successful it is absolutely essential that the environment our teachers and students are coming into is as nice or nicer than the home they left. Buildings cannot teach or learn lessons but they certainly do make it conducive to do so,” said committee chairman James Bridges.

For many longtime residents, the benefits of ESPLOST 1 and ESPLOST 2 can be seen daily as the school facilities they once attended gain a new look and expand to serve a growing population.

“We should also look at this from community and economic development standpoint as well, because when people consider moving to an area, the first thing they want to know is how good is the public school system. Both our school

systems must do well in providing a quality environment for families and business to relocate to,” said committee co-chair Jerome Tucker.

As the community prepares for even more growth in the future and the realignment of nearly 1,300 Air Force families, both school systems are dependent upon voter support in order to grow in sync with the expanding community surrounding them.

“I had a chance to go with Dr. (Steve) Smith and Mike Powers into most of the schools and I’m rather pleased with the facilities and what has been accomplished already through the first two SPLOSTs. It is my opinion, however, that out of 10 school facilities, five of them are at or exceeding maximum capacity,” said Lowndes committee co-chair Hugh Chancy.

Although the forum was not as greatly attended as hoped, committee members hold hopes that the message is being shared, as teachers and board members attending school PTO meetings Thursday spoke to parents about the importance of continuing ESPLOST.

Together the city and county are projecting a need of $160 million over the next five years for capital improvement needs within both systems. If approved, immediate funds would be made available to both systems through the sale of bond issues, and projects would begin immediately.

In addition to three new elementary schools for the city, a third middle school and second high school for the county and several renovations and technology upgrades planned for both systems, funds generated through ESPLOST 3 would allow for the re-allocation of general fund dollars to accommodate teacher and personnel needs as well as support school programs which directly affect student learning and achievement.

A second ESPLOST public hearing will be held Sept. 7 at the City Hall Annex at 7 p.m. and the community is strongly urged to attend to voice any concerns our questions.

The ESPLOST 3 election will be held Sept. 19, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting for ESPLOST 3 is from Sept. 11-15.

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