In a proposal by Republican David Banks, the board voted 4-3 - with Democrats Holli Cash, David Morgan and Alison Bartlett dissenting - to present the Cobb delegation with a resolution that would give voters a referendum to increase the sales tax, while reducing property tax by one mill. Similar to a SPLOST, this tax would be a temporary penny-on-the-dollar sales tax, except the revenue would go into Cobb County Schools' general fund. The sales tax increase would affect seniors especially and offer them no benefit, since they are exempted from paying property tax.
As Bartlett pointed out in the board's discussion of the proposal, the three Democrats on the board opposed the sales tax hike, while the four Republicans supported it. Bartlett argued that the Cobb taxpayers don't always see their tax dollars working for education.
"We have enough classrooms in Cobb County to house all our students, and yet, we're using trailers," Bartlett said. "We are taxing our citizens and they are not seeing it. They are not seeing the benefits to education. What I'm saying is you're asking to increase taxes, which this is the funniest conversation when you look at Democrat and Republican - I'm just like, there's something reversed here."
Cash and Bartlett are concerned that, if the district brings in more revenue, the state will find a way to reduce funding to CCSD through cuts. The three dissenters openly questioned the whether or not the sales tax would be successful, and what would happen when the tax expired.
"The problem is that's what it will be ... it will be turned around on this board," Cash said. "No. 1, we're going to roll back the millage. What happens when this goes away? We have to raise the millage, that concerns me ... I just don't think it's a good idea. And this has nothing to do with party, or politics or who's in power, this is for the long-term for the state of Georgia, this has not been proven to work in other places. We've just seen the budget supplanted. But I respect your having trust in the system."
Banks defended his proposal, saying that Alabama has a similar tax and that it does work. However, when Morgan asked Banks to elaborate on the details of the Alabama sales tax and its success, Banks could not specify.
Drs. John Crooks and John Abraham, however, supported Banks' proposal, saying it was a starting point for an extra revenue stream for the district and that they would like to present it to the Cobb delegation.
"I just want to see if anybody in the Cobb delegation will champion his resolution," Crooks said following the meeting. "I think I was like John (Abraham), it's a starting point."
On Tuesday, State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) said he and several other Cobb legislators received an e-mail from Banks that morning, asking them to support the additional one percent sales tax. Both Ehrhart and Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-East Cobb) doubted their fellow Cobb delegates would support Banks' proposal.
"I am always ready to look at any proposal that the school board wants to send me, but I think that the public has been pretty adamant in their feelings about any kind of tax increase," Cooper said. "And I would think that a proposal like this would have very little chance of going anywhere within the Cobb delegation."
State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) said he responded to Banks' email on Tuesday, explaining that he has serious concerns about tying the district's general maintenance and operations to a referendum vote by the public. Setzler explained that when that referendum expired, it would likely create a large deficit in the district's general fund.
"If a referendum vote were to fail there would just be a devastating hole in the school district's budget," Setzler said. "I think it would jeopardize the system and really put us in a dangerous place. I just think it's too risky and I think it would be fool-hearted to try to do that."
State Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan (D-Austell), who is the wife of David Morgan, said she did not receive an email from Banks asking for support of the proposal and that she hadn't even heard of the idea.
? The board voted on two SPLOST construction items, both of which Bartlett opposed simply because she believed the administration presented the board with the projects at the last minute.
SPLOST manager Doug Shepard explained that his office generally brings the board a bid for a construction contract to review at the board work session, and that the board then votes to award that contract in its night meeting. But since the board only has one meeting in November and one in December, the administration could not wait until December for a board vote on the projects, because it would jeopardize both project timelines.
In a vote of 6-1, with Bartlett dissenting, the board awarded an $8.4 million contract to Cooper and Company General Contractors, Inc., based in Cumming, for the addition of a culinary arts classroom, as well as renovations to Pope High School. In another vote of 6-1, with Bartlett dissenting again, the board awarded a $295,000 contract to Sports Turf Company, Inc., based in Whitesburg, for track resurfacing at Pebblebrook High School.
"I voted nay, because of not due notice given to the board, because there's always an excuse as to why we're doing this," Bartlett said following her no vote on the Pope addition. "And I've been here for two and a half years now, and it keeps happening, and it's not OK. And this is something right, and I'm glad it passed because it is the right thing to do, but we have got to stop saying, oh, wait a minute, here's a last-minute thing we need to vote on. That has got to stop."
But Banks and Abraham took issue with Bartlett's stance.
"I'm going to say something that I hope future boards believe in," Abraham said. "Successful partnerships are built on trust. And there are going to be times where we're all busy and we need to trust. And if we don't trust them, then fire 'em, OK?"
The meeting fell a week after the general election, which ousted vice-chair Cash. Despite the disappointment for Cash, she appeared in good spirits on Wednesday. Incoming board member Tim Stultz, who defeated Cash, was at the meeting early on, as was Kathleen Angelucci, who ran unopposed in the general Election and will be taking Abraham's north Cobb seat in January. Scott Sweeney, who defeated Dr. Rick Welkis for Crooks' east Cobb seat, was not at Wednesday's meeting because he is out of town on business.
In other business, the board voted to hire Dr. Angela Bacon for the director of instructional technology position that was left vacant by Linda Morrell. Bacon was hired at a salary of $102,098. She is currently the executive director of the department of technology at Clayton County.