SMN details education sales tax spending and results of shortfall

Anyone who’s interested in a detailed analysis of public spending of tax dollars should read ESPLOST: Promises and perceptions in Savannah-Chatham County schools by Jenel Few in today’s Savannah Morning News.

The 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2006 was collected for five years beginning in 2007. It raised $293.5 million for public school infrastructure. That’s a lot of money, but the original projection was that the tax would raise $360 million.

Obviously, the economic downturn played a huge role in that shortfall, and hard decisions had to be made about funding priorities.

But let me reiterate my main issues with the handling of ESPLOST:

  • From the time the tax was being sold to voters, the revenue estimates were simply too high. This was obvious at the time.
  • When the recession hit, public school officials were far too optimistic about the eventual recovery. When they made the initial downward revision, it was obvious that it would need further revision.
  • Officials didn’t seem to have a reasonable estimate of the final total until literally the final months of the tax collection, at which point some promised and even started projects had to be cut or stalled.
  • While all this was going on, the public school system fairly dramatically expanded the infrastructure that would need additional funding and maintenance in the future. In the case of the remotely located New Hampstead High School, the system has dramatically added to future transportation costs while betting on fairly intense residential development in an area where a population boom might still be a generation or more away.

It’s a piece well worth reading.