ALBANY -- Deidra Langstaff minced no words when asked what would happen if the STEPIII (Sales Tax for Educational Progress) measure on next month's ballot is not approved by voters.
"Not approving STEPIII would be a complete and utter disaster for our community," Langstaff, co-chair of Friends for Education, said. "It would make us less attractive to companies thinking about locating here because we'd appear to be apathetic toward education."
Friends for Education is a new political action committee that has been formed to push for passage of the ballot measure. The group's goal is to raise public awareness of what STEPIII is -- a penny sales tax devoted to educational purposes.
STEP is also known as E-SPLOST: educational special-purpose local-option sales tax. If approved, it is expected to pump more than $100 million into the Dougherty County School System coffers over its five-year life span.
"What many people don't realize is that more than 40 percent of sales tax money generated in Dougherty County comes from outside of the county," Langstaff said. "The Phase II renovation projects that are ongoing at all four local high schools total just over $40 million. That means that those renovations will be paid for by people who live outside of our community. That's huge for us."
Langstaff noted there are other tangible benefits of the STEP collections.
"The penny sales tax has really helped push us forward," she said. "Our graduation rate has improved by 25 percent in the 10 years the other STEP taxes have been in place. We think STEP is a factor in those improved rates."
Langstaff added that the group will begin a media campaign to tout STEPIII to the public. The push will also include a direct-mail piece, and pitches to civic clubs and churches.
The $100 million provisional STEPIII project list includes:
-- $73,600,000 STEP priority Phase II renovations for instructional improvements, including $14,300,000 for Dougherty High, $13,500,000 for Monroe High and $11,500,000 for Albany High;
-- $10,000,000 for technology in the classroom;
-- $10,200,000 for safety and security equipment and miscellaneous projects;
-- $6,200,000 for vehicle/equipment replacement, including $5,000,000 for buses, departmental trucks, vans and sedans.