This is my first “Letter to the Editor.”
My name is Peggy Pesterfield and I am in my sixth year as a member of the Cleveland City School Board. Three of these years I was privileged to serve as board chairman. Prior to being on the school board, I had 30 years experience in education as a classroom teacher, school counselor, school psychologist and director of Special Education.
I am concerned that there is a great deal of confusion regarding the upcoming referendum for the wheel tax to support education in Bradley County and Cleveland City. I see this as a local choice of how to fund a vital and essential function. I have listed the main facts for voters to consider in making their decision to support or not support the capital needs of our school systems.
1. Cleveland City School facilities are overcrowded. We have taken rooms from our art, music and computer programs for classrooms. Every school in the city is at maximum capacity.
2. The half-cent sales tax that passed in 2009 is wonderful for maintenance and repair issues, but cannot take care of big-ticket items like building an entire new school.
3. We cannot add rooms to any schools because the cafeterias and gyms will not support additional students. No one wants their children to be served lunch at 9:30 a.m. or at 1:30 p.m., nor should we ration our PE time to accommodate additional students.
4. Cleveland City needs an additional elementary school. Bradley County needs to address major problems with Lake Forest Middle School (this school is comprised of 16 buildings and students must go outside to go to the cafeteria or gym regardless of the weather. They also need to replace Blue Springs Elementary (the insurance money does not cover all of the replacement costs). Walker Valley needs additional rooms. They do have adequate cafeteria facilities for additional students.
Revenue from the education wheel tax:
1. The proposed wheel tax is $32 per automobile and $16 for motorcycles (except motor vehicles not taxed by the state of Tennessee and those owned by any governmental agency or instrumentality.)
2. The revenue from the education wheel tax will pay the interest, principal and fees for educational capital projects such as a new elementary school for Cleveland City, a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School, a new Blue Springs Elementary and eight classrooms for Walker Valley High School.
3. The revenue from this wheel tax will support education capital projects for many years.
The referendum assurances:
1. The tax can only be used for capital needs of the schools.
2. It can only be changed by 10 votes twice by the County Commission.
3. If changed by this super majority, any change can be challenged by a petition and a vote by the electorate is then required.
4. The disbursement of the tax revenue is determined by the average daily student attendance in each system. The city’s share is approximately one-third and the county school’s share is two-thirds.
Justification for educational wheel tax:
1. New industries and expanding industries are bringing job opportunities to our community. These industries expect our community to provide good schools.
2. Jobs bring new families to Cleveland.
3. Families have children who require an education.
4. All school systems are required by the Tennessee Department of Education to provide adequate schools. The state mandates class size. Like it or not, new schools are going to be required.
5. People who rent homes in Bradley County generally have children in our schools and deserve the opportunity to share in the funding of our schools.
6. The longer it takes to find a revenue source, the more it will cost our community to build schools.
7. Our present tax for a license plate is unbelievably low. The monetary value of this wheel tax is equivalent to dinner for a family at a fast-food restaurant once a year.
1. Plan B? There is no Plan B, according to the County Commission.
2. Property tax? Where else would we get the money?
I do not like taxes when I do not know where my money is going. This wheel tax is committed to local education, cannot be diverted without the approval of the voters, and everyone can see and verify how the money is spent. I believe that any political party and community should demonstrate their support for our schools by voting for this education wheel tax.
Let’s all show that adequate educational facilities are important to us. Good schools produce good citizens. Jails are very expensive and three-fourths of those incarcerated do not have a high school diploma. The solution begins in our elementary schools and continues through graduation from high school. I want our community to continue to be proud of our schools and community.
Early voting is July 13-28, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. You can vote at the Election Commission Office, the Cleveland Mall and the BI-LO on APD 40.
Aug. 2nd is Primary Election Day; polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
— Peggy Pesterfield
Cleveland Board of Education