Opinion: E-SPLOST is vital to future of Atlanta Public Schools

On Tuesday, May 24, DeKalb Schools, City Schools of Decatur, Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County Schools will ask voters to extend the 1-cent education special-purpose local option sales tax, known as E-SPLOST. The E-SPLOST question will appear on primary ballots.

In this piece, Atlanta education activist Ann W. Cramer urges her fellow city residents to approve the APS E-SPLOST. The former director for IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs for the Americas, Cramer chaired the search committee that brought Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to Atlanta Public Schools. Cramer is now a consultant with Coxe Curry & Associates, an Atlanta fundraising consulting firm serving nonprofit organizations.

E-SPLOSTS are generally seen as a less painful method of funding school improvements than raising property taxes. With a penny sales tax, the burden is shared by many people from outside the communities.

By Ann W. Cramer

Last October, sitting in the filled gymnasium of the historic David T. Howard School, I was so excited to hear Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's vision and strategy to bring about the transformation of Atlanta Public Schools -- which is focused on what is best for all of our students.

The location for Carstarphen’s second “State of the District” address was a symbolic choice: The old Howard building, where Martin Luther King, Jr. walked the halls before it closed to students 40 years ago, is poised to undergo a transformation of its own— into a 21st century learning facility that will serve as the new middle school for the Grady Cluster. For me, on that day, the possibility of transformation came to life when more than 1,000 community members renewed their commitment to the children of our city.

The Howard renovation is just one of many projects included in the proposed renewal of Atlanta’s Education Special Local Options Sales Tax, or E-SPLOST, which voters will consider when they go to the polls on May 24 for Atlanta Public Schools. (A similar measure is on the same ballot for three of our sister systems in Metro Atlanta -- Fulton County, Decatur City and DeKalb County.)

If the one penny sales tax is renewed, E-SPLOST would generate an estimated $546 million over the next five years to fund major capital projects for Atlanta’s schools, communities, and kids — all without raising taxes.

Renewal of the E-SPLOST would fund construction and renovation projects across the city. Some will honor past commitments made to communities— like the renovations in the Mays, South Atlanta, and Jackson Clusters. Others, like the projects in the Grady Cluster, will help us solve long-standing challenges like overcrowding in communities that have seen rapid growth in recent years. Still others — like those in the Carver, Washington, and Douglass Clusters, will help APS create state-of-the art facilities for students as part of its Turnaround Strategy.

But the proposed E-SPLOST doesn’t stop there. It will also support the refurbishment of critical infrastructure upgrades to heating and air, plumbing, roofing and electrical systems in our schools — including those used by APS charter schools. APS is focused on ensuring quality infrastructure no matter where a child walks into school each morning.

In addition, E-SPLOST will pay for upgrades to the district’s safety and security systems, and will allow APS to demolish the vacant and dilapidated school structures that are eyesores in communities and safety risks for children and families. The district has committed to replace and update its school bus fleet— protecting both our students and the air they breathe. As our graduates enter an increasingly competitive global economy, E-SPLOST will provide the latest technology in our classrooms, including more digital learning devices and the powerful wireless networks needed to support interactive learning. Finally, Atlanta’s schools will continue investing in athletics— providing artificial turf and field houses at our high schools and upgrades to both Grady and Lakewood Stadiums.

Our school system -- in partnership with the residents of Atlanta -- has made tremendous investments in our schools that have played important roles in community revitalization efforts across this city. Now we have the opportunity to ensure our kids' schools continue to provide a quality learning environment for our students and teaching environments for our educators in the decades to come.

I love Atlanta. We live in the David T. Howard school community. I believe in public schools. I definitely believe in our public schools -- the Atlanta Public Schools.  I will vote to support E-SPLOST on Tuesday, May 24. Please join me and be part of the reinvestment in and transformation of Atlanta Public Schools. It is what is best for all students.