Election Day is July 31 and early voting has begun.
Some important races involving excellent candidates will be decided. There are also two extremely important referendums on the ballot: the regional transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) and the local education SPLOST.
I have made my opposition to the TSPLOST well known. If this transportation tax is passed in all regions it will be the largest tax increase in Georgia history, and tie Georgia to an uncompetitive tax structure for a generation. In order to get our state moving again we need comprehensive tax reform led by a reduction in our state income tax. Defeating the TSPLOST will force renewed conversations about these badly needed reforms.
The other referendum requiring a decision is our local ESPLOST, which I support. Our community enjoys wonderful assets ranging from the carpet industry to Dalton State College to a great location on I-75. These work to our advantage when marketing our community to new businesses, yet they often cannot compensate for our Achilles’ heel — a poorly educated workforce. Businesses in the 21st century require employees to be lifelong learners who can adapt to changing market conditions and employ new technologies.
The exciting news is that a coalition of community leaders has been working to address this compelling need to upgrade our students’ achievement level, and last month launched a community literacy initiative. Representatives from the city of Dalton, Dalton Public Schools, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, Whitfield County Schools, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners and the Archway Partnership announced their unanimous support for the “Readers to Leaders” initiative that aims to ensure all students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade. This ability is the single most important indicator of future academic success leading to high school graduation and lifelong learning capability.
We need to understand though that this is not just a school issue. Because at-risk children need help from birth until they start school, it’s also a community issue. So initiatives at our new community center are focused on getting young kids ready for school via parental education, and resources such as a library extension will provide additional support.
But the school systems’ part of the literacy initiative requires funding — about $1.5 million for the coming school year. The state of Georgia has cut funding to local school systems and will likely do so in the foreseeable future. Both of our school systems, particularly the county system, have significant debts to be paid. Both systems are operating with budget deficits. The ESPLOST will provide the funds to address these debt burdens which will ease pressure on operating budgets and free up money to support “Readers to Leaders.”
I applaud the hard work and the teamwork that created the “Readers to Leaders” initiative. By supporting this effort to have all our kids reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, we will enhance our community’s economy and quality of life. We will also lead the way in Georgia on how to educate our children.
David Pennington is the mayor of Dalton.