On Wednesday, the Cobb school board voted 4-1-1, with Kathleen Angelucci opposing and Alison Bartlett abstaining, to take the proposed sales tax before votes in March.
SPLOST IV will be the only thing on the ballot. The special election should cost Cobb and Marietta school districts about $300,000.
If voters approve the SPLOST, the county district expects to collect about $718 million in the 1 percent sales tax between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2018, and the Marietta district, which approved the special election Tuesday, projects getting around $55 million.
Before casting the lone “no” vote, Angelucci read a multi-page statement about why she opposed moving forward with the vote.
“We need more time to fully assess potential costs to the district that have not been addressed properly or fully thus far,” she said.
Angelucci said there has been no “anecdotal information” provided about the $29 million proposed career academy, specifically transportation, location or maintenance costs.
“The career programs that currently exist that are not fully funded or supported,” she said. “How can we entertain the notion of using the people’s tax monies to construction another building that we as a district will have to maintain and staff when we barely have the funds to maintain and staff what we currently have? Why not invest in implementing career programs in existing schools and properly fund and support them?”
Angelucci also said she couldn’t support something when members of the board’s SPLOST oversight committee didn’t receive their requested information in a timely manner.
“The purpose of the (Facilities and Technology) Committee is to strengthen accountability, when information is not provided to this citizen oversight committee, it is cause for grave concern,” she said.
“With so many uncertainties, I have been left with no choice but to not support a SPLOST IV initiative at this time,” she said to a round of applause.
Bartlett said she abstained from the vote because she will no longer represent west-central Cobb after losing to first-time candidate and Republican Brad Wheeler last week.
“I do not feel that I can hold the system accountable to meet the needs,” she said. “I will be strongly advocating for SPLOST IV because I believe in it. … but I won’t be here to hold them accountable to make sure that the funds, if this passes, are spent appropriately.”
Wheeler will be sworn into office in January.
Cobb’s SPLOST IV notebook of projects includes $175 million for new or replacement facilities; $10 million for land; $130 million for additions or modifications; $179 million for infrastructure and individual school needs; $97 million for safety and support; and $125 million for curriculum, instruction and technology.
The big-ticket items include the career academy, an east Cobb area replacement middle school for $29 million, a new Osborne High School for $30 million, two replacement elementary schools for $23 million each and $40 million in improvements to Walton High School in east Cobb.
Before the meeting, nine of the 11 people who spoke during public comments addressed SPLOST IV, with only one of those saying to approve it or keep it as it is.
Tom Maloy of Powder Springs, a member of the Georgia Tea Party, said his organization opposes the referendum because the March election would “assure a low turnout that will not accurately reflect the will of the people” and because the district created a list of projects to match projected revenue instead of identifying projects and then determining a cost.
“The notebook contains several questionable cosmetic projects whose educational value is not commensurate with their costs,” he said. “The notebook pays no consideration to funding maintenance for the additional infrastructure that is being proposed.”
Maloy also argued that the project list cost projections were “unrealistically high.”
“The $30 million career academy projects leaves many questions answered regarding location, land costs, staffing, transportation of students, etc … and begs the question, do we really need a separate facility to accomplish that which may be done better by existing high schools and area training centers?” he said.
Lance Lamberton of Austell, president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, echoed many of Maloy’s concerns and said Cobb taxpayers are “SPLOSTed out.”
Kimberley Euston, the school board’s F&T committee chair, urged board members to “slow down the SPLOST train,” saying projects like Walton improvements were “bait to get voters in east Cobb to vote for SPLOST IV.”
Only Patti Morgan of Marietta spoke in favor of the SPLOST.
She said the district has done a “tremendous job” of making the notebook creation project transparent and accessible to the public.
Morgan also defended having the vote in March.
“It’s the public’s responsibility to come out and vote in March,” she said. “We can’t help it if people don’t turn out.”
To review a copy of the SPLOST IV notebook, visit the district’s website at www.cobbk12.org.