14915498_10154531884271163_9086904660006563804_nWhen voters go to the polls today, residents will have more than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to mull over. Along with a host of local and state elections, voters will also be considering the creation of the controversial Opportunity School District, which requires an amendment to the constitution, and Atlantans will decide if more transportation options are worth paying the highest sales tax in the state.

Sales Tax Referenda

The transportation special local option sales tax (TSPLOST) referendum is asking for an 0.4 percent increase for street, sidewalk and trail projects. If approved by voters, it would raise anywhere from $250 to $300 million over the next five years. A second referendum would ask for a half-penny sales tax for MARTA expansion projects.

If voters approve both referendums, it would push the city’s sales tax from 8 to 8.9 percent – the highest in the state.

The 0.4 percent increase would fund major projects, including purchasing the rest of the right-of-way for the Atlanta BeltLine, help refurbish streets, repair and built new sidewalks, create additional multi-use trails, and provide money to expand the bike share program.

For MARTA, the extra sales tax is expected to raise $2.5 billion that would go toward light rail along the BeltLine, a new line connecting Lidbergh station to the Emory university campus, and extending the west line to I-285. MARTA launched a website at moremarta.com to educate voters on what passage of the sales tax referendum and the various projects involved.

Opportunity School District

Voters will also decide whether to create the Opportunity School District (OSD), which requires a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to takeover chronically failing public schools. The OSD would create a new school district that would have its own superintendent appointed by the governor. Schools that have consistently fallen below 60 on the state accountability system for three consecutive years could be brought into the OSD.

The accountability system measures every school on student achievement, growth and progress, and whether the school is closing the gap between the lowest performing students and the state average. Schools are then given a score of 0 to 100.

There are currently 127 schools that meet the criteria for OSD, with 22 of those being in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) district. No more than 20 schools in any given year can be taken over by the state and the OSD is capped at having 100 schools.

Under Georgia’s OSD, the state would have four options for underperforming schools: a full takeover; shared operation with a school’s local district; conversion to charter school; and, as a last resort, closing the school.

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.