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Superintendent Cochran tells Rotary Club the need for ESPLOST

Decatur County School Superintendent Tim Cochran made a presentation to Bainbridge Rotary this week to talk about the extension of ESPLOST. A special election will be held March 21, giving the public a chance to vote whether or not the one-cent education sales tax will be renewed.

He prefaced his pitch for the ESPLOST by explaining how the Decatur County Schools receive funds from the state.

They are based on the numbers of October student enrollment counts, plus the March numbers. Decatur County has had a reduction of enrolment, losing 300 kids in over six years. He related the loss to the families who moved away when their jobs were lost over businesses closing.

On the plus side, Cochran commented that Decatur County in 2016 had a graduation rate of 86 percent, when the state average was 79 percent. This was accomplished even though there was a 90 percent poverty rate. He declared the results as “phenomenal” given all the challenges faced by the teachers today. Years ago students could pick the type of diploma they wanted to pursue. Now every student has to follow a college prep curriculum, which is much more stringent.

The school’s 2017 budget set at $40,482,098, showed the biggest cost to be salaries and benefits. It also includes water/sewer, insurance, communications, electric and diesel costs. Nowhere is there money budgeted for books or technology. Fortunately the schools have written and received grants to purchase computers and upgrade the technology. As per insurance, Cochran spoke on the healthcare insurance issue, saying from 2010 when they paid $162 per month for a classified employee, they now pay $846 per month, an increase of $2,872,152 since 2010. “We have had to absorb that,” he said. So, as the school has experienced cuts in income, the outgo has increased.

Cochran went on to explain the equalization policy adopted by the state in 1985. It is a funding formula that helps offset poverty by dividing the property digest by the number of students in that district.  That determines the money that comes to the district, and helps one understand the loss of income from the loss of 300 students. Through the downturn of the economy the district did have furloughs for teachers, but those no longer exist.  Staff has been reduced by 83 employees from 2010.

In conclusion, Cochran said ESPLOST is very important to the school system. It has funded the building of the new high school, Jones Wheat and West Bainbridge  Elementary Schools. No property taxes are used for the construction. He pointed out the constant need for upgrades to the other facilities. Five buildings are 50 plus years old, while three are 61 years old.

Cochran stressed that all SPLOST money stays here in the county. Visitors to Bainbridge and area help fund it when they make purchases here.

The term is for five years, with the current one expiring the end of June. This is not a new tax, but a renewal of the current one. The continued 1cent will provide for Decatur County by making payments on the high school debt, ongoing facility upgrades and repairs system wide, purchase technology for all schools, purchase of new school buses and for transportation equipment and maintenance equipment.

He pointed out that if the ESPLOST fails to renew, there will be no solution but to raise property taxes.