Dawson County School Superintendent Damon Gibbs gave his first address to the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce during its monthly luncheon last week.
Gibbs' topics of choice at the Jan. 8 event included the upcoming education special local option sales tax and a proposed performing arts building.
"I never miss an opportunity to talk about school funding," Gibbs joked with the lunch attendees. "We are currently in E-SPLOST IV, which is the education special purpose local option sales tax."
The board voted unanimously during its November meetings to put its fifth sales tax before Dawson County voters.
Voters approved a five-year extension of the 1-cent sales tax in November 2009, which passed with 77.7 percent of the vote and was projected to generate about $30 million over five years.
"That money is very restrictive on how it can be spent," Gibbs said. "We cannot pay salaries, pay benefits or maintain our facilities with that."
The E-SPLOST would allow the school system to use the funds for building works, including repair and renovations, acquiring land for school projects, equipment such as tablets and computers for students, fleet maintenance and, new to E-SPLOST V, acquire books, digital resources and other media for students.
"The current ESPLOST is set to run through March 2016," Gibbs said. "The E-SPLOST runs until the projected end or until you hit the amount in the referendum, which was $30 million. We are expecting to hit that number in the Fall of 2015."
The board took the first step to putting the E-SPLOST referendum on the ballots for March 17 by taking a vote during its Nov. 4 meeting.
The next steps include submitting the ballot question to ballot builders, notify local media and residents, and, if the referendum is approved, hold a final meeting within five days of the referendum to declare approval.
Also, should the referendum pass, the board plans to immediately bond out $15 million of the projected $36.5 million for a performing arts center located at Dawson County High School.
"Our major project for this E-SPLOST is a 1,000 seat auditorium performing arts center. It will house art, drama, chorus and band," Gibbs said. "We have been planning this for some time and we have initial design and concepts."
Currently, the high school has a stage inside of the main building where the drama department performs. The chorus and band rooms are also connected to practice areas with the art gallery located in a small room adjacent to the practice rooms.
"This building will house four programs. It is planned to go where the tennis courts currently are, adjacent to the gymnasium," Gibbs said. "The stage will sit in the back of the auditorium with hallways and rooms connecting dressing rooms in the back and stage entrance. It's going to be a beautiful facility."
Gibbs also spoke on student achievement in Dawson County.
"All students in the state of Georgia are going to be assessed differently this year on state standardized tests than they have in the past 12 years," he said. "Now all assessments, grades three through 12, are called the Georgia Milestones."
While Gibbs said the state had warned districts that numbers would be lower this year, Gibbs said that the students were performing better than anticipated.
"Dawson County was one of a handful of systems across the state that just gave the Georgia Milestones test," he said. "The first round of tests went well.
"We are very excited to announce that Dawson County [scores] went up in every single school," Gibbs said. "Riverview Elementary School went up [18 points], one of the largest increases in the state out of 180 school districts. That doesn't happen by accident... Our teachers are working hard ... for the children of this community."