Cobb Schools SPLOST rhetoric heats up in run-up to vote
by Lindsay Field
February 17, 2013 12:43 AM | 5852 views | 28 28 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print

MARIETTA — In a little over a month, voters will head to the polls to decide whether Cobb Schools should receive nearly $718 million in new SPLOST funds.

As the campaign heads toward the final push, some powerful interests are lining up on both sides of the sales-tax debate. Depending on who you talk to, SPLOST is either an essential building block for a school system struggling to keep its financial head above water, or it is an ill-conceived funding source lined with pork-barrel projects.

If the renewal of the 1-cent sales tax is approved March 19, Cobb Schools is expected to bring in 93 percent of the collections, or about $717.8 million, between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2018.

The school board approved its multi-million dollar project list in November. Only north Cobb’s Kathleen Angelucci opposed the list.

Cobb’s list includes spending around $175.5 million on new or replacement facilities, $10 million on land, $130.3 million on additions or modifications, $179 million on infrastructure and individual school needs, $97.9 million on safety and support and $125 million on curriculum, instruction and technology.

The big-ticket items include a $39.9 million renovation at Walton High School, a $29.9 million Osborne High School replacement, a $29 million east Cobb area replacement middle school and two replacement elementary schools for $23 million each.

Walton’s upgrades will include a $24.4 million classroom addition and a fine arts facility with theater and $9 million gymnasium.

The school, originally built in 1975, is off Bill Murdock Road in east Cobb and serves the largest population of students in Cobb at 2,636. It is about 300 students over capacity.

Osborne High School, which is the oldest high school in Cobb Schools and located off Favor Road south of Marietta, will be built behind its existing facility. It serves 1,780 students.

Chris Ragsdale, the district’s deputy superintendent of operations, said neither high school will be demolished from the ground up.

Any recent additions or modifications will remain, much like with Wheeler High School’s rebuild.

The east Cobb area middle school will be built to replace East Cobb Middle School off Holt Road, but the district was not sure if it would be able to build directly where the current school is located.

There are 1,280 sixth- through eighth-graders at East Cobb Middle, which was built in 1963.

The stand-alone career academy was proposed in light of the state’s recently adopted College and Career Ready Performance Index that replaces No Child Left Behind. It goes into effect the 2014-15 school year.

It will require students to take college- and career-preparedness classes before graduating from high school.

The idea behind the school is to have a central location where students, preferably in 11th and 12th grades, can go to continue studies for 17 possible career pathways.

The district originally proposed building two, one in north Cobb and a second in south Cobb, but reduced to only one after hearing concerns from board members who questioned the lack of details released by the district regarding the exact location and make-up of the academies.

The two replacement elementary schools or potential locations have not been named, but previously the district said they would be built at the onset of possibly consolidating or replacing Sedalia Park, Powers Ferry, Eastside, Milford, LaBelle, Belmont Hills or Brumby elementary schools.

Each of these schools, which serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade, are some of the oldest in Cobb and were built in the 1950s and 1960s.

A more in-depth outline of the project list can be found on the district’s website at www.cobbk12.org.

Who’s against it?

Over the last six months, many people representing themselves and local organizations have spoken out against SPLOST IV — more specifically members of both the Cobb County Taxpayers Association, Georgia Tea Party and some Cobb employees who have opted to remain anonymous.

J.D. Van Brink, chair of the Georgia Tea Party, said he believes there are a number of projects on Cobb’s list that are needed, but his organization doesn’t agree with the process of how they came up with the list.

He would rather the district determine its list of needs and the cost, rather than coming up with a cost and then filling in the project list.

Van Brink also pointed out one item on the list that he has the biggest problem with approving: the proposed career academy.

“We understand the concept that we have a lot of people who really shouldn’t be going to college but learning a trade, and there is a need for skilled labor, but we don’t need one or even two special places in the county to go to do that,” he said. “We can do that in the existing schools.”

He said there are just too many unanswered questions about the career academy project, including where it will be located, how it will be staffed and if transportation will be provided.

“I understand the intent, but we need more details,” he said.

Lance Lamberton with the Cobb County Taxpayers Association said he, too, opposes the need for the academy but pointed out a few additional projects he considers questionable. They include $37.4 million in athletic upgrades for concession stands and stadium improvements, $6.4 million for new band and choral instruments, $30-plus million for painting projects, $90,000 each for high school tennis courts and PE court resurfacing and formerly declaring millions of dollars as “excess” to pay down the millage rate.

Van Brink’s and Lamberton’s organizations aren’t the only ones not in favor of SPLOST IV, also called “Ed-SPLOST.”

One of Cobb Schools’ educators, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their job, said he or she is in favor of SPLOST IV but not the way it is managed. The educator specifically opposes the need for $40 million in upgrades to Walton.

“Having been in the Walton building quite a bit in the last 20-plus years, I really don’t see a need in destroying the existing building to construct a new one,” the educator said.

The educator also said parents are not fully informed of what’s going on with the project lists.

“Ninety percent of the parents, students and general public who pay taxes do not know how their money is being used right now in CCSD projects,” the educator said. “But I believe there are a lot of east Cobb parents with a lot of money and influence who are pushing for a new school for Walton.

“The time to nip all of this in the bud is now before all of these overly-elaborate pork barrel SPLOST projects get out of hand.”

Who’s for it?

Not everyone in the Cobb Schools community is against the initiative.

Parents who serve on a southeast Cobb Parent Teacher Association, as well as members of the FACE It Cobb (Funding Awareness Campaign for Education), favor SPLOST IV’s passage.

Suzanne Saad, the council chair for Teasley Elementary School, spoke at Wednesday’s work session to remind residents of the need for the passage of SPLOST, especially for her school.

The Smyrna school, which is nearly 200 students over capacity with a population of 733 kindergarten through fifth graders, is desperately in need of classroom additions, she said.

If SPLOST IV is approved next month, the Teasley community could see an extra 10 classrooms built for approximately $1.7 million, in addition to the relocation of some playground equipment, utilities and paving, and upgrading site conditions.

The total proposed cost is $3.1 million.

In a previous appearance before the board, Saad also asked that Teasley’s renovations be included among the first.

“We want to ask you that when the projects are implemented that we would be considered in the first tier of those schools to have those projects looked at and worked on,” she said. “We really are in need for some facility improvements.”

FACE It Cobb, which formed last spring as a result of a group of parents, teachers and Cobb Schools constituents concerned about lack of adequate funding for public education, is also in support of SPLOST IV passing.

“We are 100 percent in favor of the Ed-SPLOST IV, and we encourage folks to show their support,” said David Schwartz. “Let your voice be heard, either pro or con, but ultimately these are issues that need to be addressed one way or the other.”

Schwartz is the father of one Pope High School graduate and two other students who attend Dodgen Middle School.

His argument behind supporting the referendum is that if SPLOST IV doesn’t pass, the current $80 million budget deficit that Cobb is looking at for the 2014 fiscal year will only continue to worsen.

“We need to come up with some issues and/or ideas to address that budget shortfall,” he said. “If SPLOST doesn’t pass, then it’s probably going to be more draw off from those reserves, and you’re left with either tax increases, bond referendums or increasing property taxes.”

In an effort to educate the public about their stance, Schwartz said FACE It Cobb has worked with Cobb School Board Member Scott Sweeney to host informational town halls and started a Facebook page.

 

Comments
(28)
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Vote "NO!"
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February 18, 2013
I will never vote to tax myself!
Bob Bummer
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February 18, 2013
I am retired and do not pay school tax on my property tax bill and am not going to volunter to pay the tax by voting to raise the county sales tax for a service I am not using nor will I benefit from. Doing so would be a poor business, financial, and common sense decision. Any retired senior on a stricted budget would be out of their mind to vote for the school SPLOST.
Pay Up Seniors
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February 18, 2013
At least the government gives you a cost of living increase occaisionally, unlike us working folks. Some of us have seen a raise since 2009.
@ Bob Bummer
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February 18, 2013
Watch what happens to your property values once you let your schools fall apart.

Like it or not, pay for it or not due to your senior status, your property value is sustained by the quality of schools in your area.
SPLOST or Prop Tax
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February 20, 2013
Just watch, if the SPLOST doesn't pass, the first thing to go will be the Senior Property Tax exemption. What a stupid exemption anyway; old farts move here, don't pay property taxes, the schools suffer, everyone's property values go down.
Kennesaw Resident
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February 21, 2013
The Senior Property Tax needs to go anyway - it is nothing but a special interest exemption that has no place in a fair and just society.
all about the vote
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February 18, 2013
o.k., so many want to call this a "special election". before commenting on something, please make sure to do your research first. the vote can only happen by LAW two times during the year - March and November. look it up.
Vote NO on SPLOST
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February 18, 2013
Why do you need to install any windscreens at Sprayberry Softball and Football Fields? They are outdoor sports so deal with the wind!

And pick up the baseballs outside their baseball field - dozens of baseballs – especially flying into yards of homes that existed there before Cadenhead Field was built.

These are simple examples of Government School excess, but multiplied by many locations, it all adds us to waste.

Larger examples are message signs outside schools - why? Do their school websites work any longer for info or advertising?

And now we've built American Idol incubators (entertainment auditoriums) in schools, when do we get to replace their lighting, sound, seating, flooring, and fixtures/amenities?

Stop the waste and we can pass a reasonable SPLOST!

@ Vote No on SPLOST
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February 18, 2013
Check the notebook... No windscreens at Sprayberry Softball and Football fields are in the project list.

Message signs are not paid for by SPLOST.
VFP42
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February 18, 2013
Oh boy, another "special" election we've known for years was coming but for whatever reason "couldn't" get onto the regularly scheduled ballot.

I will not even consider passing anything on a special ballot unless there are special circumstances.

You want me to consider your tax? Put it on a regular ballot along with everything else.

We need to stop arguing about the 2nd amendment and add a new amendment to protect our electoral process from the real voting fraud perpetuated by the extreme right Mecca, Cobb County.

Enough with the smoke and mirrors, Cobb County Gob't. If you can't pass a "needed" tax legitimately, you are not doing your jobs as leaders. You should convince us its necessary rather than hold the election on a special date where only the teachers' union (um, "association") shows up to vote.

Once again, with this special election, Republicans are absolute total hypocrites. They talk year round about "no taxes" and "Obama is ruining us with his taxes" but then slip their own little tax in the back door while they think we are asleep. AND.... IT WORKS EVERY SINGLE TIME!
Just Sayin'....
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February 17, 2013
Drop the 37.4 million dollars in athletic upgrades to the stadiums and concessions, trim the 30 million dollar painting bill, I will give you the career academy and the improvements to Walton and the replacements of the other schools. In turn, I want the district rezoned and open up Walton to a larger area, same with Lassiter....if East Cobb wants bigger, they should get bigger.
One % is nothing
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February 17, 2013
Paying an additional one % in sales tax is nothing. Just don't shop too much.

Or if you are a property owner, your taxes could increase.
Pay Up Seniors
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February 19, 2013
How how about asking our seniors to do their fair share for the generation that will be paying for those benefits they are enjoying right now!
30% for auditoriums
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February 17, 2013
Looks like 30% ($210 million) for auditoriums and gyms.

Please, somebody who understands the detail of this list, help us out. Is this list for the necessary, or is it loaded up with "nice to have"?

If we wait a year we can have a partial penny. The legislature is working on that bill now.
anonymous
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February 18, 2013
The partial penny legislation is not applicable to school SPLOST.
JR in Mableton
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February 17, 2013
The Tea Party is now against PAINTING?!?!? This is about as simple as it gets.

Are they also against oil changes for their cars??

Painting is the simplest, most-cost effective maintenance item on the list.

Maybe they should voice their opposition to janitorial services as well.
Thanks JR - Mableton
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February 18, 2013
Lance Lamberton, a self avowed expert on tax affairs, should familiarize himself with with O.C.G.A. § 48-8-121.

Lamberton drums up an old argument critical of the millage rate buy down with excess SPLOST proceeds, yet that is precisely what the law requires when there is no debt to be retired.

So, what would Lamberton have suggested be done? If the district had not done this, hundreds of teachers would have lost their jobs and classroom sizes would be larger. His position is the wrong side of the argument.

By the way with regard to excess SPLOST proceeds, GA code specifically states:

"If there is no such other indebtedness or, if the excess proceeds exceed the amount of any such other indebtedness, then the excess proceeds shall next be paid into the GENERAL FUND of the county within the special district, it being the intent that any funds so paid into the general fund of the county be used for the purpose of REDUCING AD VALOREM TAXES."

That would be millage rate Mr. Lamberton.
Just Wait
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February 17, 2013
It's time to pull out the "it's for the kids" campaign one more time. Please don't fall for it again. It's time the CCSD was weened from this tax. It's not "special" anymore. Vote NO!
ohdear!
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February 17, 2013
Lassiter High School wants to spend $12 million for a new gym after recently opening a $15 million theater. Want vs need?
anonymous
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February 17, 2013
The powers that be understand that after the miserable failure of the transportation splost, they had to rally east Cobb parents around the next Ed splost in order for it to pass. This is why the "notebook" is packed with new goodies for east cobb and south and west cobb have been virtually ignored.

This slush fund has been mismanaged for way too long and the system doesn't know any more how to operate without it. Let's vote no and see them squirm trying to slash their unnecessary pork projects. Somewhere along the way, the focus has changed away from educating our kids and has become all about rubbing elbows with the contractors for the school system, greasing pocketbooks and bidding for things not needed.
David M Schwartz PhD
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February 17, 2013
Lindsay:

Thank you for your balanced article. I just want to reiterate that pass or fail,the Ed-SPLOST is for capital expenditures. We still will have a budget shortfall of about $80m and ongoing budgetary issues for years to come, that are not capital expenditures. We cannot afford to lose our best educators, our best administrators, our thought leaders, our programming, and so many other important components of our childrens' education and preparation for life. We need ideas and solutions. Please think about ways we can address this important issue. Everyone needs to remember that better schools will draw businesses to Cobb County and help property values. It is so much more than just about education. It can be a win-win issue for all the people of Cobb County. Thanks again for the balanced reporting.
Pay Up Seniors
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February 19, 2013
One way to address the issue, Dr. Schwartz, is to have the CCSB ask Georgia Legislators o redact the Senior Exemption. It is my understanding that this would provide an additional $64 million in operating revenue to the CCSS.

In an environment where over one-third of population under age 30 is unemployed, many working people are losing real income, the only viable solution may be to look to our seniors who have a guaranteed source of income from the federal government in the form of Social Security. Many if not most also have first dollar health care coverage through Medicare, something else that the working person does not have. While they often cry poor, this percentage is actually very low and many can afford to supplement the school system in Cobb County.
ProSplostMom
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February 17, 2013
For anyone who wants to vote against SPLOST, before you do, I implore you to talk to your local school council before you cast that NO vote. SPLOST is the "cheapest" way for ALL of us to help fund our schools without too much "hurt" to our pocket books. It is in our best interest to help our schools be successful. To do that, we must give them the tools they need.
VFP42
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February 18, 2013
How is a special election the "cheapest" way to help fund our schools without too much "hurt" to our pocket books?

Having this vote on the regular ballot last November would have been a lot cheaper, so please spare us your hyperbole.
Concerned teacher
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February 17, 2013
I am very concerned that if SPLOST does not pass, we will be facing a larger crisis. The public do not understand that SPLOST has specific requirements under the law. It cannot pay salaries and we hear people stating it should be paying salaries and supplies for the classroom. If it does not pass, the county will have to borrow money for these projects and we are a debt free county now. We will not continue to be debt free in the future. A career academy is needed in Cobb County for those students who are not college bound. It would reduce the drop out rate and crime if they had a place to learn a trade. They have these schools in the North and they are very beneficial. I do worry about how they are going to pay for staff and upkeep at those facilities when they can not pay teachers now. The county fails at selling or leasing the buildings that they don't need. They need to figure out how to update buildings instead of building new schools and leaving the old ones empty where we have to continue upkeep. I think our county school system is too big and we need to separate it into 4 districts. Marietta City has done a fabulous job with their budget and we have not because of the size.
anonymous
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February 17, 2013
A group of us were discussing the "career academy" idea just tonight. Not everyone is suited to go to college or wants to go into a career where a college degree is required. I am an old-timer, but I built a very lucrative career based on the foundation of office courses that were offered to me in high school. We had school counselors that helped us determine as freshman which career path seemed to be what we needed/could afford and based our high school courses around that. If these schools/courses are offered up North, someone in the education system needs to form a committee to study the programs offered up North. And, no, I am not talking about technical school after high school. I am talking about learning a trade while in high school.
VFP42
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February 18, 2013
If SPLOST pays for a new theater building, then the funds that would have paid for the new theater building become freed up. These freed up funds have no requirements whatsover. SPLOST is a shell game, or perhaps a SELL game:

1. Hold an election on a special day so turnout approaches zero. Have voting precincts at schools so teachers get the day off.

2. Earmark all the money for particular things that are already funded. Spend the old non-SPLOST source of funds on whatever you like.

3. Laugh at how everybody fell for it AGAIN because the teacher's union (um, 'association') bulletin conned the teachers into voting for it

Cobb County Taxpayer
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February 18, 2013
This teacher will not vote for it!
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