Early voting begins Friday and will continue through July 28. Pesterfield’s comments came during a monthly session of the city school board.
“Some seem to think denying our students these facilities will teach the county and city officials a lesson,” Pesterfield said. “The ones to suffer will be the children, not our officials.”
The tax is specifically for large education capital projects. According to Pesterfield, these projects cannot be addressed with only the sales tax. If passed, the education wheel tax will be $32 for motor vehicles and $16 for motorcycles.
Members of the board wasted no time in supporting Pesterfield’s stance. Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of city schools, began by stating school population statistics.
“Dee Dee Finison [Mayfield Elementary principal] is expecting just over 600 and we finished with 561 down there. We are looking at a 40 to 50 student increase,” Ringstaff shared. “These are not scary numbers we are trying to use to get people to vote. These are issues we need to deal with in the next 29 days.”
Added Ringstaff, “Stuart Elementary and Cleveland Middle School are both looking at growth numbers. Cleveland High School ended with over 1,300 and they are expecting more than 1,400 for this next school year.”
“The money from taxes will provide a new elementary school for city students, replace Blue Springs Elementary School, which was destroyed by the tornado, and build additions to Lake Forest Middle School and Walker Valley High School” in the county system, Pesterfield explained.
Money from the wheel tax will only be used to repay educational debt. Pesterfield stated the tax cannot be raised or diverted without the approval of 10 commissioners in two separate votes. A referendum can be called if the electorate receives approximately 2,100 signatures.
“These projects are needed because of the growth experienced in Cleveland and Bradley County and the tornado,” Pesterfield said. “Bradley County has one of the lowest tax rates in the state but as a result, the per student funding for [county] schools is ranked one of the lowest in the state [131 of 135].”
Ringstaff stated, “I do not understand the perception of teaching officials a lesson. I’m not sure how much more we can cut budgets in Cleveland city when the reality is people continue to move here.”
Board members agreed the public needs to understand expansion from incoming industries means expansion within schools.
“What I hear a lot is we should tighten our belts and pay the debt,” board member Dawn Robinson shared. “We are a public school and we cannot control the number of students that come to us. We have to have a place for all of these students.”
Robinson said a new building was not wanted to replace an old building. She stated a new building in addition to the old ones is needed to make room for students in the school system.
Added board member Steve Morgan, “The bottom line is we’ve grown. We need more room and we have to pay for it.”
All seven of the school board members agreed the wheel tax would be beneficial for the community because of its support for education. Ringstaff congratulated the board for standing as one on the issue.
“It speaks volumes in my opinion when you seven are 100 percent in favor of doing what is right for the city,” Ringstaff said.