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E-SPLOST in translation
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DURING THE school year, I make my kids keep their shoes outside.

Not just because anything that’s touched their feet smells like it mopped up Godzilla’s bathroom, though anyone who has ever stood near a sweaty 12 year–old boy knows this to be true.

The main reason is that they bring home enough dirt in their shoes every day to sow corn, and I get sick of sweeping it up. They also transport nearly the same amount in the cuffs of their pants, but they balk at taking off their pants in the front yard.

All this dirty dirt comes from the school playground. Really, “playground” is a generous term for the desolate back lot of Charles Ellis Montessori Academy, a place that for as long as anyone can remember has borne a striking resemblance to an abandoned Bedouin camel pen instead what you’d expect from of one of the district’s most coveted schools.

Broken bricks surface every time it rains, and most of the equipment looks like it was salvaged from the bottom of the sea.

While other schools might gun for fancy rocking climbing walls and gold–gilded swings that push themselves, we’d just be happy with some of that spongy surfacing stuff to break a fall during a game of kickball.

But it’s cool. Us public school parents voted and we voted hard, and E-SPLOST is gonna take care of it.

The district promised it would happen last September. And then again over winter break. Surely, it’ll happen this summer. Right?

Spliishhh. That is the sound of sinking hopes. And overused brooms.

While phase one of the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax raised a nice $304 million bucks to cover capital improvements in existing schools and build a couple of new ones, the Savannah–Chatham County Board of Education sheepishly admitted last week that it’s short $16 million to pay for the rest of its promises.

“No money has been lost, no funds have been misappropriated,” assured district chief of staff David Fields at last Wednesday’s BOE meeting. “We just collected less than we thought we would.”

The current economic aridity means less pennies in the coffers than projected back in 2006, when no one had yet heard of the Great Recession. The unfortunate and untimely passing of COO Otis Brock, who monitored the numbers and tried to dial back the budget several times, has left the district more than a little lost. Fields has shuffled the budget line by line to even things out, deferring certain projects to E-SPLOST II and cutting some maintenance and HVAC repairs all together.

Ellis’ little playground of horrors is on the deferred list, but it’s the least dramatic (and least expensive) of the chops: Heard Elementary, the most overcrowded school in the district at 148 percent capacity, won’t be getting its new wing anytime soon. Welcome to another year of portable classrooms in the parking lot, kids.

“Frankly, our school looks like a trailer park,” declared Heard parent Michael Edwards to the board, articulating the image of three kids in two chairs to illustrate what 148 percent capacity looks like.

Also deferred are much–needed expansions for jam–packed Hesse and Isle of Hope, which have recently transitioned from elementary to K–8. (A fat high–five to the BOE for phasing out the concept of middle school, which is basically The Hunger Games without the trackerjackers. Who’s bright idea was it anyway to isolate children in the throes of puberty so they can socially assassinate each other in their own building?)

It’d be easy to be outraged over the shortfall. We voted not once but twice to pay a penny for every dollar we spend with the understanding that Savannah’s public schools — not just the “good” ones but all of them —would get what they needed.

Bids were made, plans were drafted. Some schools — like Pulaski and the as–of–yet unused New Hampstead High out on I–16 — have sparkling new campuses. Others are going to have to wait.

“What I’m worried about is that we seem to have two tiers of schools now, some where everything is brand new and others that are deteriorating,” lamented board member Julie Wade, whose district contains five of the seven deferred projects.

The discrepancy is strangely ironic, with high–performing schools like Ellis and Hesse occupying some of the most decrepit facilities. This just goes to show that brick–and–mortar doesn’t actually provide the best education; fine teachers and involved parents do that. (Case in point: Oglethorpe Charter, who will still get its new building but not new furniture.)

Still, overcrowding conditions need to be moved to the tippy–top of the E-SPLOST II list — and hazardous conditions like the Ellis filth pit addressed now, while school’s still out for summer.

After looking at photos presented by Ellis parents Shauna Kucera and Michelle Haberland, Superintendent Thomas Lockamy agreed, promising to find the extra pennies to get ‘er done.

The truth is, I’m not mad. I get it: Money you thought was going to be there isn’t. Happens to the best of us.

I don’t regret my E-SPLOST votes one bit, nor do I blame the BOE. I believe once it all shakes down, the board will keep its word.

But if my kids are still bringing home dirt in their shoes when school starts again, I’ll sweep it up in a bag to sprinkle around at the next BOE meeting.