Can you say “blue Christmas”?
There’s got to be a better way of funding local education. And according to one of Cobb’s most respected public leaders, there is a “Plan B.” More on that in a moment.
THE COBB SCHOOL DISTRICT has been hit by $353 million in austerity cuts by the state since 2003 and the Marietta District by $27 million in such cuts. And there’s little chance the state will restore that funding any time soon, not with Speaker David Ralston telling the MDJ on Wednesday that the Legislature’s biggest challenge in the coming session will be figuring out how to fill a looming $300 million gap in the state budget.
So the issue becomes if there is a budget hole of between $50 million and $75 million a year that the Cobb school system has to fill come hell or high water, how best to fill it? Raising property taxes isn’t much of an option because the district is already just under the state-mandated 20-mill ceiling. That leaves the sales tax, raised via the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. But is there a way to make a school SPLOST more effective — and easier to sell to voters?
Many people have suggested holding a joint county/school board SPLOST, or “splitting the penny,” as a way of funding the capital needs of both county government and the school systems. Holding such a joint referendum would have the beneficial effect of reducing “SPLOST fatigue” felt by voters as a result of what seem like near-annual SPLOST referendums here in recent decades. One referendum is better than two, in other words. But alas, such joint SPLOSTs are not allowed by state law at present, and changing the law likely would be a several-year process.
And that brings us to the so-called “Plan B,” which has been formulated by a local elected official with a deep background in the Cobb public school system.
THE FIRST STEP in that regard would be to perform a five-year needs analysis. The proposed SPLOST IV would continue the 1 percent sales tax for five years. The analysis would look at how much of what’s proposed for funding by the SPLOST is “wants” and how much is “needs.”
“Not just ‘semi-needs,’ but true needs,” the official told Around Town.
That is, unavoidable capital needs, not “sweeteners” like the artificial turf and auditoriums thrown into past SPLOSTs to make them more attractive to various voting constituencies.
Our source said he suspects that the system’s true “needs” probably come to between just 35 and 40 percent of the $718 million in projected revenues from the proposed SPLOST IV.
Once the five-year needs analysis is complete and the Cobb and Marietta systems — and the public — finally have a clear picture of what’s truly needed, the two boards would then call for a three-year SPLOST IV, not five.
Cobb SPLOSTs are said to typically pull in about $8 million a month, which should be sufficient over the course of three years to cover the “true needs” for the next five years.
And that call for a shortened three-year SPLOST would be coupled with something just as crucial — a promise not to seek another SPLOST for five years, giving taxpayers a two-year tax holiday when the SPLOST expires. That would nip future complaints about “SPLOST fatigue” in the bud and also rebut the oft-heard complaint that elected officials have come to see SPLOST revenue as an entitlement, not as “special” funding.
Some will no doubt say that a board could not make such a five-year promise because state law prohibits an elective board from binding its successor board. True enough. But as a practical matter, a symbolic five-year promise would have the same effect. What candidate is ever going to run for office pledging that if elected, he will break the incumbent board’s promise and push to raise taxes?
Meanwhile, local boards wouldn’t have to put all their eggs in one basket. Even while pushing for the “Plan B,” local legislators could work on passing legislation allowing for “split-penny SPLOSTs,” hopefully to be in place once the five-year Plan B SPLOST runs its course. As for the Plan B SPLOST, it would be a “split-penny SPLOST” in all but name.
PASSAGE OF A “PLAN B” SPLOST would be no sure thing, but politicos with whom the idea has been shared feel like it would stand a far better chance shoring up the public’s badly eroded trust in the process than what’s now on the table. With the “Plan A” SPLOST looking more and more like a loser, why not give voters who want to see our schools do well a chance to support a “no-frills” SPLOST?
IF YOU’VE BEEN to see the new Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln,” you’ve also heard the work of Cobb trumpet player extraordinaire Chris Martin — and we’re not just talking about Civil War bugle calls.
Martin, principal trumpet for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (and formerly principal trumpet for the Atlanta Symphony) is the featured trumpet soloist on the score of Spielberg’s new movie, playing a new score by the famed John Williams.
Martin and his brother Michael (who plays in the trumpet section for the Boston Symphony Orchestra) are the sons of Freddy and Lynda Martin and graduates of Sprayberry High School, where their uncle, Dan Martin, was band director for 29 years.
Chris Martin got to meet both Spielberg and Williams during the recording sessions and a piece of music from the movie is about to be published by Williams with a special dedication to Martin, reports family friend Phillip Allen, organist at First Baptist Church of Marietta, where the family is longtime members.
COURTHOUSE COMINGS, GOINGS: Georgia Supreme Court Justice P. Harris Hines of Marietta will swear in Greg Poole as Cobb’s newest Superior Court Judge at 4 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Ceremonial Courtroom at Cobb County Superior Court. ...
Incoming District Attorney Vic Reynolds will be sworn in at 11 a.m. Dec. 17, in the ceremonial courtroom. Probate Court Judge Kelli Wolk will do the swearing in, as mandated by state law. ...
The next day, Dec. 18, new Juvenile Court Judge Jeff Hamby will be sworn in at 3 p.m., also in the ceremonial courtroom. Chief Judge Robert E. Flournoy III will conduct that ceremony. ...
And also that day, a retirement ceremony for Cobb Magistrate Court Judge Joan Bloom will be from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room of Cobb Superior Court.
“FAT ALBERT,” the Lockheed-built C-130 Hercules support aircraft for the Navy’s famed Blue Angels aerial demonstration team, will touch down at the plant in Marietta Monday morning on a Toys for Tots mission.
“Albert” will leave his home base in Pensacola that day and pick up two pallet loads of toys donated by Lockheed Martin and its employees, then fly them to Join Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., where Marines and volunteers will distribute them to families in New Jersey and New York that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
MARIETTA lawyer Bill Holley introduced Cobb District Attorney-elect Reynolds as speaker at Thursday’s Marietta Kiwanis Club meeting, and was running through his resume for the crowd.
“Vic graduated from college with a B.S. degree — so it was logical that the next step for him was to go to law school,” he quipped.