Five more years - John Loud understands the importance behind that phrase.
Five more years is what Cobb County voters backed when they hit the polls in March to support the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The program will enable Cobb merchants to gather a 1 percent sales tax for education through the end of 2018.
While the continuation of the ESPLOST program had its detractors, many believe its passing is critical to the area's future.
"If ESPLOST had not passed, those and similar expenditures would need to be paid directly from the district's operation budget general fund, which would have a significant, adverse impact on the budget deficit," says Loud, founder and president of LOUD Security Systems, and co-chair of United 4 Kids, a major backer of the program. "This ESPLOST program has approved hundreds of new renovation projects, which will not only strengthen our schools and facilities, but spend millions of dollars with local companies and help put (scores) of people to work over the next five years."
Since ESPLOST was created by the Georgia legislature in 1996, 94 percent of all education referendums have passed. Today, 98.7 percent of all Georgia counties have an ESPLOST program in place, particularly as it pertains to bolstering educational initiatives.
In Cobb, the tax is expected to raise an estimated $772 million - $717.8 million to be allocated to Cobb County schools and $55.4 for Marietta schools. In both cases, funds will be used for capital projects. In Cobb, ESPLOST money will help the district remain one of the largest debt-free school districts in the country. In Marietta, part of the money also will be used to make the district debt-free. The money cannot be used on operating expenses such as teachers' salaries.
"Residents and business owners have a keen interest in seeing that their school district is fiscally responsible," Loud says. "Becoming and remaining debt free is a strong example of excellence in fiscal management. Cobb is in the enviable position of having one of the lowest school millage rates in the metro area while also remaining debt free. This is such a shining medal when talking to new corporations looking to relocate to Cobb County, with the end result being economic development and job growth."
From where Brooks Mathis sits, ESPLOST will continue to be a driving force in recruiting new businesses as well as being a way for existing businesses to strengthen their talent pools.
"When a business knows that a community is responsible with its finances, strong and conservative financially, and that education is a priority for its citizens and the next generation, it has value," says Mathis, vice president and executive director of Economic Development and Cobb EDGE for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. "This isn't just something we say, it is something we have done. Our community puts our money where our mouths are. That means being responsible and having the best public education system in the state today. This investment will prove to provide the best system in the future."
The future is what many Cobb business leaders aim to protect, especially when it comes to education. "Until sustained economic growth is realized, public school funding will continue to be challenging," Loud says. "It's critical that Cobb County continues to build on its stellar reputation as a great place to do business and be recognized as having one of the best public school systems in the nation."