Columbia County school system administrators voiced their reservations about a proposed change in state tax law Thursday in a meeting with local legislators.
The proposed constitutional amendment that would replace property taxes with a sales tax was one of several topics school board members discussed with state Reps. Barry Fleming and Ben Harbin and state Sen. Bill Jackson at the Board of Education building.
"The Columbia County Board of Education opposes this proposal because it removes local control over revenue collections and weakens the direct link between communities and schools," the board said in a handout outlining its position.
Superintendent Charles Nagle said the proposal would create a need for an additional 3.65 percent in sales tax on every item sold to equal the amount of funding the schools receive from the state.
Regina Buccafusco, the school board chairwoman, said she fears that Columbia County could become "a donor county" to other systems.
"People are leary about sending money to Atlanta and actually getting back what we send them," she said.
Fleming, a co-sponsor of the tax bill, said school systems would be funded under a formula that would ensure that the reimbursement rates were no less than property tax revenues. "The proposal ... would get rid of most exemptions to sales tax," he said.
He said revenues that would result from taxing items such as groceries and legal services, which now are exempt, would equal property tax revenue.
Harbin said voters would have to approve the tax amendment in a referendum. In addition, he said, it could not go into effect before 2009.
Nagle also asked if lawmakers had discussed allowing impact fees to be used for school construction. Harbin said legislators are focused on the sales tax amendment rather than impact fees.
Nagle said the school system also would like more flexibility in the way it can spend special purpose local option sales tax funds. He said flexibility would allow the schools to use that sales tax funding not only for capital outlay projects, but also for items such as new desks, textbooks and technology.
Nagle also raised the issue of accountability for standardized test requirements for home-schooled children who enroll in public schools.
"They don't answer to anything except attendance," said Nagle.
He said some home-schooled students who enter county schools are not prepared.
"We require standardized tests every three years starting in third grade, but they don't have to turn results in to anyone," Harbin said.
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