When it comes to ‘selling’ SPLOST IV need trumps speed
October 25, 2012 12:00 AM | 2663 views | 10 10 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AS THINGS NOW LOOK, the Cobb school board is likely to ask local voters come March whether they want to extend the 1 percent Special Local Option Sales Tax for education for another four years. It would be the fourth such SPLOST (or ESPLOST) for Cobb schools and would collect a projected $717.8 million. If approved in March it would take effect Jan. 1, 2014 and follow on the heels of SPLOST III, which is expires Dec. 31, 2013 and is expected to collect $631.5 million.

But voter approval of the proposed SPLOST renewal is anything but a “given.” SPLOSTs are rarely easy “sells” to voters, even in the best of times. And these are far from the best of times, in terms of the local and national economy.

What was originally meant as a “special” tax designed to help fast-growing school systems keep up with growth by helping pay for the construction of new schools has gradually and subtly morphed into what many critics contend is a tax that the school board now sees as an entitlement of sorts. Even though enrollment in the Cobb system has been essentially at a standstill for the past half-decade or so, the board seems eager to see the tax renewed. Rather than funding new construction, SPLOST dollars increasingly are being used for routine maintenance and operation costs.

For example, Kim Euston, chairwoman of the board’s Facilities and Technology Review Committee, told her group at its meeting Monday that the district’s compliance and performance audit of SPLOST III spending found that $33 million in SPLOST III dollars had been used for routine painting. She has called for a forensic audit of the system’s SPLOST spending, in part to reassure residents that their tax dollars are being spent as promised.

“I think it is very important for the taxpayers to have full transparency with SPLOST,” she said. “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. …

More than 50 percent of the projects to be funded by SPLOST IV are maintenance-related, 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 how much was spent and were the projects correct,” she said.

Another SPLOST-related subject that came up at Monday’s meeting was Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa’s proposal to spend $60 million in SPLOST IV dollars to build a pair of “career-academies” for students not on a traditional college-oriented track.

That proposal now has been pared back to one such academy, thereby freeing some $30 million that could be spent on items meant to appeal to various targeted constituencies in hopes they would vote for the SPLOST, much the same way that SPLOST III included funding to install artificial turf on numerous local football fields. There’s also talk of dropping the career academies idea altogether and performing their functions at existing schools, rather than adding additional buildings that must be maintained and operated — not a bad idea. But watch and see if that additional $30 million that would be freed up is used instead for board members’ pet projects to sweeten the deal for various constituencies.

***

THE PUBLIC will get a look at the updated SPLOST IV project list when the “SPLOST notebook” is unveiled today at 4 p.m. We would encourage the board to take its time about the notebook, rather than rushing to set a March referendum date.

In addition to the considerations already mentioned, there are others:

— None of the current board members were on the board for the creation of prior SPLOST notebooks, and they face a steep uphill learning curve. And “selling” this SPLOST to voters is not going to be as easy as they think.

— Prior SPLOST referendums were “stand-alone” special elections featuring extraordinarily light turnouts that are easy for the board to manipulate. As one of Cobb’s largest employers, the votes of teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and their spouses are usually sufficient to assure passage. But the public has caught onto that game — and onto the $400,000 cost to taxpayers of holding a special election.

— Prior SPLOST elections were held before the anti-tax tea party had taken root. Many of its supporters can be counted on to fight another SPLOST referendum tooth and nail, just like they did last summer’s TSPLOST.

— And last — but certainly not least — there is so-called “SPLOST fatigue.” It’s a rare year that doesn’t see local voters being asked to approve an EPLOST or a county road SPLOST or, as in the case this summer, a region-wide transportation referendum, or TSPLOST. None of these “special purpose” taxes ever seem to go away, and local residents are getting tired of throwing the party.

The Cobb school board would be wise — and serve residents best — by remembering that content and true needs trump speed when it comes to this latest SPLOST proposal. This SPLOST is likely to be harder to pass than any of its predecessors. We’re all in support of our local public schools, and that’s why it’s crucial that if the board is determined to rely on another SPLOST, that it take its time, listen to the public and get its proposal just right before taking it to voters.

Comments
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KK2012
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October 25, 2012
Georgia doesn't rank very well when it comes to education spending, transparency on spending is definitely important and it will help increase support for this bill. All I know is education is too important to go unfunded.

VFP42
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October 25, 2012
What are you talking about? Education has always been funded, albeit to little effect.

Transparency is the mirror. Watch for the smoke. SPLOST money goes to education, and money that went to education prior to SPLOST, well, who even knows where that goes. It doesn't matter!!!
Be Careful
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October 25, 2012
I read a few months ago in the MDJ that the school board wanted (among other things) $700,000 to remodel the bathrooms and concession stand at the Allatoona HS football field. I commented then, that those facilities are only a few years old and still in "as new" condition". I know, I go to games there.

So who says they need to be redone at almost a million dollars, and why doesn't someone on the board say wait a minute, this is silly?

Why doesn't a reporter ask those questions?

They need to get needless spending under control before they renew a tax on us.
David Staples
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October 25, 2012
Out of curiosity, I'm assuming that we're going to be spending another $400k to hold this special election in March, right? Could this not have been on this November's ballot to save some money? We've known for a while that the current SPLOST would be ending. A little bit of foresight should have told us that we could save some money by voting on it when there's already another election being held, no?
VFP42
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October 25, 2012
It doesn't matter.. The $400,000 can be taken from non-SPLOST education funding and then replaced by SPLOST money! It's FREEeEeeEEEEeee3e3e3e33eee!!!
Watcher...
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October 25, 2012
CCSD's SPLOST IV will meet the same fate as TSPLOST!
Kennesaw Residentq
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October 25, 2012
I hope so! I will be voting "NO."
Absentee Ballot
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October 25, 2012
If a special election is again held for the School SPLOST, make sure you request an absentee ballot. There will be proof of your vote in case of a recount. The SPLOST for Cobb won by so few votes and the machines do not keep a record.
vtgrad
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October 25, 2012
Absentee ballots are not the way to go, as in the primary election, many of them were printed incorrectly and the Board of Elections when notified of this said "well then you shouldn't have cast it". It is incumbent upon the Board of Elections to get these ballots correct in the first place. That is why during the runoff, all voters were given a piece of paper that suggested we check our ballots, and if they were incorrect, notify a poll worker. Truthfully, how many people who vote are sure who their candidates are? Also, with thousands of absentee ballots having to be fed manually into machines, well into the evening on election night there IS a greater chance of mistakes. Vote in person people... and vote responsibly... Do NOT vote if you don't know the issue OR the candidate. Our county and country are counting on you.
VFP42
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October 25, 2012
1.

We need a constitutional amendment that a special purpose tax be for something special and limited to a specific timeframe with no reinstatement possible. If we just keep reinstating a SPLOST over and over and over, a SPLOST is nothing special, is it? It becomes quite routine like property tax and other sales taxes. NOT special. LEt's just call it the "Sales Tax Supposedly Dedicated To Education So We Can Spend Our Property Tax Money And Other Sales Tax Money On Whatever We Want."

2. Speaking of other taxes, what are property taxes spent on these days? They used to go toward education, but now that SPLOST pays for education, what is done with our property tax money?

Nobody ever talks about that, do they?

SPLOST funds are "dedicated" for education, but property tax money can be taken away from education and replaced with SPLOST money, so really it's all just smoke and mirrors.

$A comes from property tax and pays for education. Now we have $B from SPLOST! $B pays for education (we promise!). But hey, look at this $A over here.. It is not dedicated for education, but is being spent on education. We can use $A over here without telling anybody as long as $B replaces it!

Nobody talks about that, except maybe our local government officials visiting South Korea the other day. I sure bet we paid for that trip. 100%. And they said, "THANKS SPLOST" except they said "THANKS" in Korean and laughed how clever they were.
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