County Republicans have approved a resolution opposing the tax, which targets the city’s and county’s need for education funding. Party Chairman David Smith and Vice Chair Debbie Williams said, “We felt it was time to speak out.”
The local GOP position was published in Tuesday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Ringstaff and school board members object to several statements attributed to Smith and Williams, saying it is their time to speak out.
“We would welcome a debate or a forum to discuss the issue with any party affiliates,” the director of schools said in a “Letter to the Editor” published in full on the Editorial Page (page 16) of today’s edition.
Ringstaff said the stand by the “National Republican Party” surprised him. “I am wondering how anyone can take a stand against a better educational system for our students?”
He added, “The first paraphrase of their resolution says it all, in my opinion. It says government should tax only to raise money for essential functions. In our eyes, educating the students is an essential function.”
Cleveland’s director of schools, and the city school board, agreed with the Republican officials when they were quoted as saying they stand firm in supporting low taxes. “So do we, but we live in a county experiencing growth due to numerous corporations coming into the city and surrounding communities,” Ringstaff’s letter emphasized.
“Our Republican Party celebrates when big business comes to the city, and surrounding area, but argues against funding the essential elements (of community services such as schools),” Ringstaff said.
The city’s top school official also quoted from the GOP resolution, “There has to be another solution.”
“We have asked for other possibilities, yet to no avail,” he said. “A property tax is all we have been given as a possibility.”
Ringstaff and the city board also challenged the quote, “It will only be used to borrow $32 million the first year,” saying this is incorrect information.
“The entire wheel tax is locked into education and education debt service,” Ringstaff said. “The only way this can change is another referendum by the voters, or 10 votes by the Bradley County Commission.”
“I also take issue with the part of the resolution that says, ‘Whereas, the wheel tax is being falsely marketed to the citizens as necessary for the functioning of local schools,’” Ringstaff continued. “We are already 200 students over capacity in our elementary schools. We have picked up over 340 students in the past one and one-half years and the trend has not slowed down.”
The local GOP’s Williams, in referring to the 2009 sales tax increase in the resolution, said, “In reality, only one year of the sales tax increase went toward educational projects.”
“This is simply not true,” Ringstaff stated. “We get our portion of the sales tax money monthly and we use it only for capital improvements.”
According to Brenda Carson, the school system’s financial manager, sales tax receipts just for city schools in 2009-10 were $889,166.68; $810,413.12 for 2010-11; and $755,797.38 this fiscal year with two months remaining.
“In the past three years we have used the sales tax money for the following: 1. CHS East Wing heating and air replacement (2012); 2. Betsy Vines Theater renovation (approved Tuesday}; 3. CMS athletic field lighting (2012); 4. Remodeled George R. Stuart Elementary School (2010); 5. New Science Wing at the CHS (2009-2011); and 6. Sixty-one other major and minor jobs at every single elementary school, CMS and CHS (2009-2012),” the Ringstaff letter cites.
A small sampling of capital projects (top to bottom) include Cleveland High School’s Science Wing, $7,324,527; Betsy Vines Theater renovation approved Tuesday, $411,532; heating and air at CHS, $337,000; Stuart School renovation, $328,921; science equipment, $242,243; CHS tile, $81,969; annual technology upgrades, $81,041; maintenance vehicles, $51,847; Blythe-Bower windows, $23,027; art department equipment, $15,090; and chairs for the high school, $5,761. This partial total of capital improvements is $8,925,078.
The director said the school system continues to utilize its money “wisely” in upkeep and maintenance of the school system’s buildings, grounds and vehicles.
“In my opinion, the sales tax money is one of the greatest decisions voters of Bradley County and Cleveland City have ever made,” he said in praise of this tax increase.
“We are charged with educating students,” Ringstaff stressed. “We do not waste money and we do our very best for all citizens of Cleveland, no matter their political affiliation.”
Ringstaff, and the city school board, say they would welcome a forum with any politician, or their respective party representatives, on the wheel tax proposal.
“We did not ask for the wheel tax ... that decision came from the Bradley County Commission as they stepped up to make a hard decision in the name of education,” Ringstaff said. “They should be commended for taking that step.”