A county sales tax that has helped public schools in Carter County afford new supplies and technology is up for renewal in the special election slated for Oct. 10.
County Commission Board Chairman Joe McReynolds said they introduced the .25 percent tax about five years ago to offset budget cuts at the state level.
“Teachers were actually sending notes home with students asking for paper, notebooks, those kinds of things.” McReynolds said. “They were having to ask kids to bring it for the classroom. The schools didn’t have the money for things they really needed.”
Schools have purchased new computers, provided maintenance on old equipment and purchased additions like smart boards, but the money has also gone to school supplies and textbooks.
McReynolds said he’s concerned people may think the ballot is proposing a new tax, instead of just continuing the existing .25 percent tax.
“It’s going to stay the same,” McReynolds said. “I still get people telling me they won’t vote for it because we pay too much as it is and we don’t want to pay more, and I tell them ‘it’s not increasing, it’s the same tax we had before’.”
Springer superintendent Cynthia Hunter said the funds from the tax have been a huge help to her school district.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Hunter said. “It can provide resources for our students that we would otherwise not have funds to pay for.”
The tax is specifically for “technology equipment and instructional and classroom materials for all common school districts wholly located within the county.” Hunter said her district has used the money for everything from smartboards and computers to small things like lightbulbs and cables.
“We had to refurbish our computers because they were about 7 or 8 years old,”
Hunter said. “We were way past the replacement date on those. Even things like paper. It could be something as simple as that or as complex as an online reading program.”
“It has been in the big purchases, the time is so short and the expense is so large,” said Hunter. “And it’s required. Students need that technology to be successful in the marketplace or in college.”
The tax is up for renewal while the state legislature is in special session trying to resolve a gap in the state budget. Lone Grove superintendent Meri Jayne Miller said she’s hoping for the best and bracing for the worst.
“School districts realize there might be more budget cuts at the state level,” Miller said. “I don’t know that the special session will make much difference.”
Like Hunter, Miller said smartboards were a particularly useful addition to classrooms, but textbooks are also a big expense because they become obsolete every time the curriculum changes.
“Our state textbook funding has been cut dramatically,” Miller said. “They’re expensive, and test prep materials for state-mandated testing is an out of pocket expense for school districts. Keeping up with changes in curriculum is quite a task, and keeping teachers prepared for those changes is especially important, especially when it comes to state testing.”