Around Town: Cobb School Superintendent: Deep austerity cuts by state are ... ‘The New Normal’
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
May 21, 2013 12:00 AM | 9108 views | 8 8 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BUDGET-DRIVEN staff and spending cuts have become a way of life in the Cobb school system in recent years — and we might as well get used to them, Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa warned members of the Marietta Kiwanis Club last week.

The culprit? Deep, cumulative cuts in state spending, he said, that started back in 2003. The $9.01 million in cuts that year have ballooned to $72.17 million for fiscal 2013, he said. And, cumulatively speaking, they add up to $425.39 million in state money that the Cobb system didn’t get — even as enrollment grew from 98,819 in 2003 to 108,496 this year.

This year’s austerity cuts per Full Time Equivalent student come to $665, or a cumulative $3,921 over that period, he explained.

Worse, there probably are more such cuts to come from the state.

“This is ‘the new normal,’” said Hinojosa. “After ten years of it we need to quit complaining about it because it’s not going to change. I figure if the state gets any new money they’re either going to give it to transportation, health care or charter schools. I don’t think they’re going to give it to us. They haven’t in the last ten years. So we’ve got to find solutions with our own resources. After ten years austerity cuts are not going away, so we’ve got to find new ways to deal with this.”

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HINOJOSA also boasted that the Cobb system has lower “overhead” costs than its local peers.

“We spend the least — $83 per student. The next closest is Fulton, and they spend double what we did ($181). And then Gwinnett spends three times what we do ($240). So everybody talks about ‘cut the Central Office.’ Well, there’s not many people there, I promise you. I’ve been in other systems where we had a lot of central office staff, but what we have is the legacy of prior administrations and prior boards to make sure you’re very lean.”

THE SUPERINTENDENT praised local voters for passing the recent Ed-SPLOST extension, and noted that only two of the largest school districts in the country are debt free, and that Cobb is one of them. (The other is the City of Memphis, he said.)

“It’s not because I did anything,” he added. “I just got here and inherited this wonderful situation.”

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CHIEF DEPUTY Cobb Sheriff Lynda Coker, a mainstay of the department since 1986, will retire as of June 1. Coker was part of the early wave of women entering law enforcement and was appointed chief investigator in 1996 by then-Sheriff Bill Hutson. Current Sheriff Neil Warren promoted her to Chief Deputy in 2004.

“Lynda has served the citizens of Cobb County and the public safety community for many years and now has decided to spend time with her family and husband, Gene,” Warren told Around Town.

“When I appointed Lynda as my Chief Deputy, I wanted to surround myself with the best management team and people I could trust. Lynda has been a tremendous asset to our agency and her no-nonsense style of management is one of the reasons the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office is one of the most respected agencies in the state. I have always valued her friendship and support.”

Coker (R-east Cobb) also served three terms in the Georgia House of Representatives, starting in 1990.

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POLITICS: Among those who shelled out at least $10,000 each to serve as “sponsors” at Sunday’s Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser with President Barack Obama were former Gov. Roy Barnes and former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden of Marietta.

The event took place at the Arthur M. Blank family office on Howell Mill Road in Atlanta. The event invitation suggested contributions of $10,000 per couple or $32,400 per person.

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WORLD WAR II hero Dutch Van Kirk, who served as navigator on the “Enola Gay” on its fateful flight over Hiroshima and is the final surviving crewman of that B-29, will be signing copies of his book “My True Course” from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the Acworth Bookstore on Main Street and will present a talk about his book at 3:30 p.m., reports bookstore owner Guy Condra. …

The Enola Gay is now in the Smithsonian. A partially restored B-29 named “Sweet Eloise” is on display at the main gate to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta. And the last B-29 Superfortress still in flyable condition — named “Fifi” — is at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport through Wednesday of this week from 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. each day. Admission is $10 per person and free for those under 18. There will be free cockpit tours with paid admission, and the plane will fly at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, courtesy of the Commemorative Air Force.

For more, go online to www.AirPowerTour.org. More than 600 B-29s were assembled during the war at the old Bell bomber plant in Marietta, now operated by Lockheed Martin.

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RUNNING: Marietta Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jason Waters tells Around Town he plans to run for the Ward 2 seat on the Marietta School Board in this fall’s election. Waters, 37, is former chair of the Marietta Division of the Cobb Chamber and past president of the Leadership Cobb Alumni Association.

A native of Douglasville, he has lived in Marietta since graduating from UGA in 2001 with a finance degree. He is a commercial banker with SunTrust and lives in Lee’s Crossing subdivision with his wife Katie (a former teacher at Hickory Hills and A.L. Burruss elementaries) and their two young children.

His top priorities are supporting community schools, the city’s school choice program and dealing with the impact of the city’s redevelopment initiatives.

“That is, how can we support it and how can we actively manage it when it potentially will cause changes in the city’s tax base and in the number of children in the system?” he said.

And as for the city’s popular choice program, Waters adds, “We can have strong neighborhood schools and choice programs. These are not mutually exclusive choices.”

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COBB Solicitor General Barry Morgan has been elected vice president of the Georgia Association of Solicitors General, putting him in line to serve as president next year.

MARIETTA ATTORNEY Clem Doyle of Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers LLC was inducted into the Athens Hall of Fame Monday at a banquet in Athens.

Doyle was the leading receiver on Clarke Central’s 1990 football State Runner-Up team. His end zone catch in Valdosta, which was ruled out-of-bounds, is a controversy which still stings Athenians some 23 years later.

Doyle’s coach was the legendary Billy Henderson, and Marietta banker Chad Whittemore of Keyworth Bank was the quarterback who threw Doyle the pass. Doyle also played on Princeton’s 1992 Ivy League Championship team.

These days Doyle is better known as attorney for the Cobb County School District.

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SICK BAY: Financial planner and longtime Boys & Girls Club board member Jamie Vann of Marietta is recovering at home from head injuries suffered when his car was rear-ended by a dump truck and knocked into a tree.

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DON’T FORGET Thursday’s 3 p.m. dedication ceremony for Joe Mack Wilson Park at 190 Roswell St. in downtown Marietta. Wilson served as Marietta mayor from 1989-93 and before that had a long career in the state Legislature. Speaker for the event (which is sponsored by the Business & Public Affairs Committee of The Marietta Kiwanis Club) will be former Gov. Roy Barnes.
Comments
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I Am Educated
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May 24, 2013
Here are suggestions for "Educagte" (same as "educate" maybe? Okay, here you go...Hooted and hollered at the suggestion of EVERYONE leaving government jobs to seek an increase of 20-30%. Good luck with that one, pal. There will be people standing in line behind you to get your job by the hundreds, while your smug self goes off on interview after interview with no avail. You make quite an assumption that everyone is like most Americans and have not saved in private 401Ks for their own self-funded retirement. And another assumption for sure, the writer you replied to could very well be 20 years old. Unless you are 10 and are already established in your career and are the exception to the rule and are making contributions into Social Security at the age of 10, that writer will not depend on you for Social Security benefits. Quite the contrary. You will be living off taxpayer-funded pension dollars to survive.
Jeff A. Taylor
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May 21, 2013
Can someone cogently explain WHY the Cobb system is debt free?

I mean, almost all of us have mortgages, our business likely have some debt -- why is it a virtue for a school system to have NO debt?

Yes, interest expense can be viewed as a "lost" expenditure -- but it depends on what it buys.

To me, if we are really, really serious about this New Normal (and I don't see 30% annual bumps in real estate valuations coming back) it seems to me we need to consider this deal with the state --give districts the flexibility to use local option sales tax revenue on whatever, operating costs included, and floating SOME debt secured by property tax revenue could take up the capital expenditure slack.

In other words, if we cannot afford the public education system we want on a cash basis, maybe an installment plan is the next best option.
@ Jeff A. Taylor
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May 22, 2013
Borrowing money to pay off credit card bills is a bad idea for consumers.

It's not much different for schools. Current gratification bears significant costs.

As an example, San Diego's Poway Unified School District borrowed approximately $100 million under a Capital Appreciation Bond (CAB). The debt service will exceed $1 billion. While this is 10x the amount of the original bond, there are many examples between 10x and 20x for schools across the country.

AmericanMale
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May 22, 2013
CCSD has no long term debt because of Ed-SPLOST. Long term debt had been used to build buildings and other capital expenses, but the interest burden diminished the value taxpayers received.

Now, with Ed-SPLOST, taxpayers pay-in a dollar and get a dollar's worth.

What's truly galling to me is that Gwinnett Co. schools got over $60 million from the state in equalization grants. Cobb paid-in the mandated amount to the state, too, yet got nothing back. Gwinnett doesn't look to me like a "poor, rural district without a sufficient tax base!"

ADD to that the loss of over $72 million in so-called "austerity cuts" and it's amazing Cobb Schools were ONLY dealing with an $86 million dollar shortfall!

It's time for Georgia's legal-beagles to look into the legality of not using the taxpayer dollars clearly paid in the name of EDUCATION for education, but for pet projects in "transportation, healthcare or charter schools!"
Laura A.
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May 21, 2013
All the best to Ms. Lynda Coker, who's been such a staunch supporter of our community for years. Fair winds and thanks for your honorable service.
anonymous
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May 21, 2013
People are certainly ignorant that do not see that the government has protected salaries and benefits to a far greater extent than has been protected by the private sector. The perception of the world outside of government is "go get a government job. You won't be laid off even if you die."
anonymous
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May 21, 2013
What I want to know, and I REALLY DO WANT TO KNOW, is when government pension plans will be cut out as they already have been cut out in corporations across America in the last 10 years. I really do want to know. The catch phrase is that pension plans are obsolete now. Well, not in government.
Educagte anonymous
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May 22, 2013
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW...

Okay, here you go... The pay for the average government worker is WAY below what they would be paid in a comparable position in the private sector. So, the trade off if is pension and benefits. But if you want to drop the pension and benefits, have at it. However, you had better be prepared to increase our salaries by 20-30 percent or just about EVERYONE would leave. Less pay=better benefits. Higher pay=no befits, and buy on your own. You have more choice to invest in your retirement (with the possibility of higher reward - including risk). We have no choice, likely less reward, but low risk. It is a trade off with which saves the taxpayer more money.

Want to spend more? Give me the choice and more money... I would probably retire in a better position.

But, like most Americans these days, you probably spend most of your income living to the fullest extent of your pay. Then you will depend on people like me to pay your social security to survive when your too worn out to work.

Get it now?
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