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Superintendent discusses upcoming ESPLOST referendum
damon gibbs
Damon Gibbs.

Dawson County Schools Superintendent Damon Gibbs took a few moments Thursday afternoon to thank the community for its continued support of the school system during the Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Gibbs addressed business and community leaders Sept. 12 thanking them for their support of ESPLOST V and providing an update on what ESPLOST funds have accomplished in the past four and a half years.

The Dawson County community voted in favor of ESPLOST V, a one percent sales tax used for education purposes in 2015. Around 85 percent of ESPLOST funds are generated by people who live outside of the county.

The maximum collection amount set for ESPLOST V was $36.5 million which has been used to fund capital projects at Dawson County schools including the Performing Arts Center, ROTC facility and College and Career Academy, all located on the Dawson County High School campus. A new roof for Robinson Elementary was purchased and installed in the summer of 2018 using ESPLOST funds. ESPLOST also funds the 1:1 initiative that has placed an iPad in the hands of every student in the county, purchases new buses including those with Wi-Fi and air conditioning as well as funds the technology infrastructure for the school system.

“We are currently $3.2 million ahead of collections,” Gibbs said. “The economy and all the growth on 400 has made that number go faster than we thought it was going to, so we have a need for a referendum if we want, as a community, to continue the ESPLOST into the next stage.”

ESPLOST V was set to end in December 2020, however due to higher monthly collections, ESPLOST will end much earlier in 2020.

The Dawson County Board of Education voted in July to put the ESPLOST VI referendum on the ballot on Nov. 5. Based on the current economy and projected three percent growth over the next five years, Gibbs said the total projected revenue for ESPLOST VI would be approximately $48 million.

Gibbs outlined what ESPLOST VI would look like, if approved by the county’s voters, which includes investments in technology upgrades, facility construction and maintenance, land purchases for future growth, electronic media resources, band equipment, three new facility projects and partial funding for a fifth elementary school.

“We do not currently need an elementary school number five, but we will. We are growing and we will need one,” Gibbs said.  “We bought property on 183 a couple years ago. We have 40 acres up that way, and we’re planning to build our fifth elementary school on that property as we grow and as we have that need. We don’t want to have to fund that elementary school just when we need it, so we’re starting to prepare financially to have money in the bank to build that when we need it.”

The future elementary school, located off Hwy. 183, will have $12 million in ESPLOST funds allocated as a partial payment for the approximate $20 million price tag Gibbs estimates for a new elementary school. It will be used for future growth in the county, but the school system currently has plenty of room to accommodate growth.

Dawson County currently has 3,600 students enrolled in the school system, with both Dawson County Junior High School and Dawson County High School at about 50 percent capacity, Gibbs said. There are no plans in ESPLOST VI for another middle or high school.

“Another high school divides our community. We say ‘One Dawson’ for a reason,” Gibbs said. “We don’t want to split our community in half.”

Also included in ESPLOST VI would be $17.5 million set aside for three new facilities: a new technology facility to house the district’s technological infrastructure, an agriculture facility and a multipurpose facility.

“We’re going to build an agriculture facility. We don’t know exactly where yet. We don’t have the design ready, but we’re going to be able to host agriculture events that our FFA can manage and we’re going to have a great facility for that,” Gibbs said.

The new multipurpose facility will be located at Dawson County High School and will house a myriad of daily activities.

“It’s also going to give a home to our cheerleaders and our wrestlers and some of our smaller sports so they don’t have to find a corner somewhere and have space when they absolutely just demand it,” Gibbs said.

The rest of the ESPLOST VI fund allocations include: $12 million for technology upgrades, $2 million for transportation, $3 million for land and $1.28 million for electronic media resources and band equipment.