Revenue from education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) is off to a slow start, leaving officials with Dalton Public Schools and Whitfield County Schools wondering if they will have to scale back projects.
ESPLOST was projected to raise $105 million over five years, with county schools taking $68.65 million and city schools getting $36.35 million.
The sales tax collected for county schools in January was $745,000, but county school officials expected at least $940,000 a month. February brought in $974,242 — more than the $940,000 expected — but the surplus was not enough to make up for the January deficit. County school officials expected to have $1.88 million by now, but have $1.71 million.
Sales tax revenue for each month is released on a two-month delay. Information on revenue from March will not be made available by the state Department of Education until May.
“January is typically the lowest revenue of the year because people have exhausted their wallets from big spending in December during Christmas shopping,” said Ron Hale, chief financial officer for county schools. “January is normally the lowest month, but this is still abnormally low for January ... this is well below expected, but hopefully things improve. If they don’t we will have to cut back on some projects.”
Whitfield school board members have said they want to use ESPLOST to pay off $36 million of debt from building the new Eastbrook Middle School and Coahulla Creek High School, put $8 million towards technology upgrades such as computers and put $12.5 million toward smaller facility upgrades including new air conditioning or new roofs.
The sales tax split between the two systems is based on student population; county schools teach 13,176 and city schools teach 7,225 students, according to the last official count by state officials.
City schools also lower than expected
Officials with Dalton Public Schools also reported lower than expected ESPLOST revenue. January revenue was expected to be close to $500,000, but was $353,000. February was expected to bring in another $500,000, but brought in $489,700. Instead of $1 million in revenue, city schools have $842,700.
“This is only the second month of collections,” said Theresa Perry, city schools chief financial officer. “We can always adjust our projections and fine tune for expenditures in our capital projects. We will make another projection if we find several months into this that we are three or more percent below expectations.
“Overall, February revenue is significantly better than January. That’s 38 percent improvement, but it’s a little bit below projections. Finance staff will continue to monitor this.”
City school board members are planning to use ESPLOST funding to expand Dalton Middle School and Morris Innovative High School.