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School SPLOST wins extension

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett and Buford schools will continue to receive money from an education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which voters decided to renew Tuesday.

The referendum unofficially passed 86,991 to 43,028, or by 66.91 percent, Tuesday.

The referendum approves a 1-cent sales tax on all purchases made in Gwinnett County. The current tax will be collected through June 30, and the new tax will begin July 1 and will end in five years.

"It's certainly a victory for the 152,000 students and their families," said Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

Gwinnett County Public Schools plans to use the money to fund "The Plan," a construction timeline designed to get Gwinnett's building needs in check.

Wilbanks said he "really wants to fast track this program." Three elementary schools are scheduled to open in August.

Wilbanks said the SPLOST should cover 40 to 50 percent of the school system's known classroom and capital needs. The tax money is expected to generate enough money to build 26 new schools and nine school additions.

Gwinnett Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Louise Radloff said "so much credit goes to the folks ... (who) recognize good schools make good communities."

The school system has grown during the past 30 years, she said, and the growth is not expected to subside soon. Gwinnett's enrollment has grown by about 5 percent each year; in the state, enrollment has grown by 2 to 3 percent each year.

The SPLOST is expected to raise $1.1 billion. While Gwinnett County schools will receive the majority, Buford City Schools will receive about $18.7 million.

Buford City Schools Superintendent Geye Hamby said the school system will "begin moving immediately" on its projects.

"That's exciting news ... that allows us to continue with our building program in the city of Buford," Hamby said. "We're planning additions at all of our schools."

Buford Academy will receive 30 additional classrooms and an auxiliary gymnasium. Buford High School will be getting 20 additional classrooms and an auxiliary gymnasium.

Mike Levengood, the chairman of the 2007 Education SPLOST Renewal Campaign Steering Committee, said Gwinnett schools have been good stewards of the penny tax in the last decade.

"That record of success makes it an easy sell to ask voters to continue the momentum ... and maintain a system of world-class schools," Levengood said.