Committee chair calls for audit of SPLOST programs
by Jon Gillooly
October 23, 2012 01:47 AM | 3327 views | 13 13 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — Kimberley Euston, chairwoman of the Cobb school board’s Facilities and Technology Review Committee, does not want to see the proposed education SPLOST IV go down in flames because of voter distrust the way the TSPLOST did in July.

To that end, Euston raised a number of concerns during Monday’s F&T meeting, including calling for a forensic audit of the system’s SPLOST programs to give residents confidence that the collected funds were being spent as promised.

School board member Alison Bartlett, who serves as liaison to the committee, said an education SPLOST IV, which would span from Jan. 2014 to Dec. 2018 if voters approve it in March, is projected to collect $717.8 million, compared to SPLOST III, which spans from Jan. 2009 to Dec. 2013 and is projected to collect $631.5 million.

Euston, who was appointed to the committee by school board Chairman Scott Sweeney, said the school district’s compliance and performance audit of SPLOST III gave her pause.

Euston pointed out that $33 million in SPLOST III was used for routine painting, an expense that was flagged in the audit. The district must ensure SPLOST expenditures remain within the boundaries of the state law for capital and education improvements, she said.

“I work for an auditing firm as part of my job,” said Euston, director of marketing and sales for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“I’m not an auditor, nor do I play one on TV, but I think it is very important for the tax payers to have full transparency with SPLOST. There is more transparency now than with the other SPLOST notebooks, but we need to make sure that every project in the notebook is what is legal and that we’re doing everything that we can by what the definition of SPLOST is. …

“This new notebook has over 50 percent of the proposed projects that are maintenance,” she said. “A forensic audit could guide us more, not even for SPLOST IV but even take a deeper dive at SPLOST I, II and III and see what was spent, how much was spent and were the projects correct.”

Committee member Wayne Brown, an engineer appointed by board member Kathleen Angelucci, also called for a forensic audit.

“The amount of maintenance we need is enormous for these schools, and we’re going to spend money on a concession stand and some of these items, and I just want to make sure that it’s legal,” Brown said.

Bartlett said the district’s attorneys were reviewing the SPLOST IV notebook to ensure the projects are legal.

“What I’m hearing is we need to make sure what we’re doing is legal,” Bartlett said. “Our attorneys are paid to do that, and that’s what we hold them accountable for, so in that respect, no (on a SPLOST IV forensic audit). Do we need to do an audit on our previous projects to see like SPLOST III after the work is done have we done what led up to the notebook? I would say yes.”

Another hot button issue raised at Monday’s meeting is that of a career academy. Bartlett said district administrators originally proposed two $30 million career academies in SPLOST IV to be built at yet-to-be revealed locations, but Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is now proposing just one.

The $30 million earmarked for the second school was put into project lists that came from schools and staff, she said.

Euston said it may be better to spread the career programs among the schools, rather than spend $30 million on a career academy.

“I met with the principal of one of the high schools in my post, and I learned that there is room in auto shop,” she said. “They only have 40 students enrolled, and their capacity could be 120.”

Brown said that’s what he saw in a tour of the schools in his post.

“We saw a lot of these career paths — plumbing for example, construction, culinary arts — being taught in the high schools already, and I think that could be expanded on without the individual high school,” Brown said.

Bartlett said she has a number of questions about spending $30 million on a single career academy.

“Where’s the business model?” Bartlett asked. “We have transportation cost issues, we have administration cost issues, we have a new building. I have a problem for me justifying building the building at this time when I have toured my schools and realized that we’re not maintaining what we have. We have $1.2 billion in assets. If you just go really low-end, if 10 percent, we should be spending over $120 million a year just to maintain, and at this time our budget is $3 (million) to $4 million.”

Euston also raised concerns over the possibility of SPLOST III projects being transferred to SPLOST IV, noting that tax receipts are down.

“We have projects that were not technically in the notebook in SPLOST III such as Wheeler High School, which we see change orders for,” Euston said. “The Lassiter theater project, again, something else that was not in the notebook as a 1,200-seat theater, is over budget. I have concerns that we’re not going to have enough money to finish projects that were in the notebook for SPLOST III.”

The timeline is another concern, she said, with the school board set to vote on the SPLOST IV notebook at its work session just next month, even though school administrators are set to reveal an updated SPLOST IV list later this week.

“It’s going to be completely new when we receive it,” Euston said. “Which basically gives this committee three weeks to make a recommendation on are these projects legal … are they prioritized based upon needs or are we making sure that the projects are equitable throughout the entire county?”

Brown said it will require an enormous amount of the committee’s time to have a recommendation for the school board before it votes next month.

Bartlett said state law requires a SPLOST vote in either March or November. The school board is aiming to have the vote in March to avoid a three-month gap in revenue collections, she said.

Yet Euston said better to have a few months’ gap in funding than for voters to reject the education SPLOST just as they did with the TSPLOST.

“The concerns that I have shared with Mr. Sweeney directly is that it is better to perhaps lose the revenue for a few months and have a SPLOST pass in November,” Euston said.
Comments
(13)
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Watcher...
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October 24, 2012
I remain interested in Dr. Hinojosa's Performance Review. The Review that Dr. Hinojosa will not release.

I call upon "Dear Super" to fully disclose the most recent CCSD Board Review.

How is it possible for Cobb Taxpayers to completely evaulate CCSD's Board if we are unable to see how they evaluate The Super?

If there is not a release of the Review, I will vote NO and encourage others to vote NO on SPLOST IV!

Concerned Tax Payer
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October 23, 2012
How did Lassiter get a new theater that was NOT on the SPLOST III Notebook - and - is over budget? Who made the decision? Sounds like a forensic audit is needed, as long as someone is held accountable.

Until the CCBE shows they are responsible for taxpayer dollars, I will be voting NO on SPLOST IV. However, it will be interesting to see the final Notebook for SPLOST IV.
anonymous
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October 25, 2012
You're mistaken... The SPLOST III project list specifically identified the following at Lassiter HS:

"Addition of a Theatre for performing arts."

Look it up. It's there. To answer your question, voters approved the project list, thus "made the decision."

While you're at it, review the state mandated SPLOST audits all available on the district's website.
Once Again
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October 23, 2012
Why won't anyone consider making the new rebuild of Osborne High School also the new Career Academy thus saving THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS? It would work so wonderfully for the population of the area and save the district so much money. It could run like a magnet, thus students wanting to attend programs there that are not at their home schools, would be provided transportation just like the magnet schools and you would not have to worry about staffing an extra high school.
wrong again
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October 23, 2012
No, the role is to assure that the projects decided by the board are executed according to the notebook. This committee doesn't get to decide the projects. In fact, they should stay out of that business. Otherwise they are just tools of the BOE. The problem with this committee is that few, including the BOE ever understand its role. Since Betty devised the committee it's been misunderstood. Really, bottom line, with the transparency provided by open records and the SPLOST website, this committee is unnecesary. In fact it's harmful because, just as in this case, BOE members use it as a tool. Euston and Wayne are just echoing what their BOE member buddies want. The original idea was that the commmittee members would think for themselves.
Shut up, John
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October 25, 2012
John Crooks, you are the pot calling the kettle black! You and Banks should be conjoined twins you are both so far up each other's who-hahs.

The Board understands the role of the committee just fine; you just don't like not being in control.

You are not on the Board anymore, John; get it?
May Showers
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October 23, 2012
The thing Ms. Euston doesn't get is that she is not in charge. She and her "committee" are there to simply make recommendations and/or suggestions to the board who have to answer to the public. This "committee" is just another government tool to take some of the heat off of elected officials who are the ones who are supposed to make these decisions. If they don't have time to review something - don't. Move on to the next issue. It is not up to them, as unelected board pawns, to determine if something is legal or not or when something needs to be voted on by the public.
F&T Member
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October 23, 2012
I disagree. The role of the committee is oversight and make recommendations that the projects are appropriate under the SPLOST guidelines. This is not a rubber stamp committee.
Effin' Tee
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October 23, 2012
May is right. F&T Member needs to get the committee chair to read their guidelines again. Recommendations are one thing. Determining what is legal or not and digging up projects from 10 years ago (SPLOST I) to determine if those projects "were correct" goes WAY over the bounds of what the original intention of this star chamber were. Disband this farce and let the board make its own decisions. That is what we voted on and what we are paying them to do.
Fed Up Taxpayer
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October 23, 2012
Amen! The CCSB must learn to be fiscally responsible with our money. Astro turf on practice fields? Building a 9th Grade center at Harrison that will only be 65% occupied? Building a massive "theater" at Lassiter that does not even have curtains? Asking for $60 million dollars for career academies when there is no plan on staffing and transportation? The county can't maintain the buildings they have currently. I'd like to know how the district paid for projects before the "SPLOST DRUG".

VFP42
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October 23, 2012
In addition to auditing SPLOST funds, let's see an audit of what we now do with pre-SPLOST funds that used to pay for education but were replaced by SPLOST funds.

You see, when they "GUARANTEE" SPLOST funds will be for "education," what they don't tell us is that the $1,500 of your property tax that used to pay for a laptop, but no longer pays for a laptop because SPLOST now pays for a laptop, is now paying for lap DANCES in South Korea.

ALL this SPLOST money has gone into education, but the schools are just as broke as ever.

Where does all our property tax money go these days with SPLOST paying for eductaion?????????
Watcher...
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October 23, 2012
Please tell us about the lap dances in South Korea.
Lap Dances
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October 23, 2012
so what's wrong with paying for lap dances? At least someone gets something out of it. Usually those are women whom otherwise would not have work. It's really a jobs program. Also, you could have lap dancing classes in the schools. That's a magnet program that would likely succeed.
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