Parent group aims for awareness about school funds
by Hannah Morgan
December 15, 2013 11:01 PM | 2987 views | 14 14 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
About 15 Cobb parents formed the group FACE It Cobb, which stands for Funding Awareness Campaign for Education, in February. The group describes itself as a grassroots movement, ‘to help preserve the premier quality and prestige of our nationally ranked’ county schools, according to their Facebook page . Above: A group of about 30 people, including board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney, gathered Thursday morning at Infomart, a building off of Terrell Mill Road and east of I-75, to share their experiences with school budgets. <br> Special to the MDJ/Julia Curran
About 15 Cobb parents formed the group FACE It Cobb, which stands for Funding Awareness Campaign for Education, in February. The group describes itself as a grassroots movement, ‘to help preserve the premier quality and prestige of our nationally ranked’ county schools, according to their Facebook page . Above: A group of about 30 people, including board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney, gathered Thursday morning at Infomart, a building off of Terrell Mill Road and east of I-75, to share their experiences with school budgets.
Special to the MDJ/Julia Curran
slideshow
Cobb Parent Meghan Ritchie, above, and about 15 other parents formed the group FACE It Cobb, which stands for Funding Awareness Campaign for Education, in February.
Cobb Parent Meghan Ritchie, above, and about 15 other parents formed the group FACE It Cobb, which stands for Funding Awareness Campaign for Education, in February.
slideshow
About 30 people, including board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney, gathered Thursday morning at Infomart, a building off of Terrell Mill Road and east of I-75 to share their experiences with school budgets.
About 30 people, including board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney, gathered Thursday morning at Infomart, a building off of Terrell Mill Road and east of I-75 to share their experiences with school budgets.
slideshow
MARIETTA — Meghan Ritchie said she was shocked when she discovered one of the state’s top school systems was financially unstable.

The mother of three children enrolled in the Cobb School District moved to east Cobb from Chicago two years ago, and immediately volunteered to serve on the school council at Dodgen Middle.

The council was made up of four parents, two teachers and a principal, and the group traveled to meetings around the county to learn about the district’s budgets and curriculum.

At a meeting in May 2012, somebody mentioned to Ritchie that the district was facing an $80 million shortfall, and she was taken aback.

“That doesn’t make sense. You move here for the schools, and the schools are experiencing this deficit, that’s a concern.”

Rising up

Ritchie and about 15 other parents formed the group FACE It Cobb, which stands for Funding Awareness Campaign for Education, in February.

The group has received nearly 550 “likes” on its Facebook page, where recent posts advertise the PTAs at county schools, including Mountain View and Kinkaid Elementary.

The group describes itself as a grassroots movement “to help preserve the premier quality and prestige of our nationally ranked” county schools, according to their Facebook page.

Ritchie said she has been working for close to a year to educate other parents like her about the realities of the school district’s budget.

The average person in the grocery store would not know about the financial situation of the school district, Ritchie said. She wants to change that.

“These are dire times. We’ve been dealing with these deficits pretty well for years. But now, it’s getting to be more than anyone can handle. Thus the movement,” Ritchie said.

The campaign

The group tries to have meetings once per school quarter, and had a meeting last February to promote Ed-SPLOST IV, a five-year tax approved by voters in March.

A group of about 30 people, including board members David Banks and Scott Sweeney, gathered Thursday morning at Infomart, a building off of Terrell Mill Road and east of I-75.

They listened as Ritchie, along with Claire Suggs, an analyst from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Hilda Wilkins, a former Cobb County principal, and Matt Jones, the president of EmpowerED Georgia Action, another grassroots education group, described their experiences with school budgets.

Bottom line, they said, is the state’s school systems are in financial trouble and state lawmakers need to give local districts more money.

“Now’s the time to hold our legislators accountable,” Jones said.

Ritchie passed out bright green shoestrings, on which read, “stop putting our schools on shoestring budgets.”

The strings are meant to symbolize the anticipated $79 million budget shortfall the Cobb School District will have for the 2014-2015 school year.

FACE It Cobb is working to get shoestrings into the hands of teachers, parents and students, and then onto the desks of lawmakers downtown.

Ritchie is hoping the physical reminder of shoestrings will help lawmakers prioritize when voting on the 2014 budget in January.

Until then, Ritchie will be calling her representatives.

The future

This past week, Ritchie said she has reached out to her local lawmakers. She has called state representatives Don Parsons (R-northeast Cobb) and Matt Dollar (R-east Cobb) and senators Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, and Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, but has yet to hear back.

She wants to tell them to prioritize funding education in the coming year.

Ritchie has encouraged fellow parents to call their lawmakers and tell them that they would be willing to raise their taxes to fund education.

“I’ve heard from parents that they are willing to have their taxes increase and would vote for people who raised taxes. People are OK with having their taxes increased, because they understand that these are different times. They are not against it,” she said.

Not so fast, says J.D. Van Brink, the chairman of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party.

Van Brink said raising taxes would not solve the school district’s problems. Instead, he advocated board members trim spending.

“There is no option to raise taxes,” he said.

Looking to expand beyond east Cobb

Ritchie and the other 14 members of the movement’s steering committee are planning to meet at the State Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 27 to deliver their shoestrings and show their support for increased education funding.

Ritchie said she would like to see the group expand out of its home in east Cobb, and for schools around the entire district to join in the shoestring movement.

She wants every parent in the aisles of Cobb County grocery stores to understand what the school district’s budget situation is.

Comments
(14)
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@cobbschool board ad
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December 16, 2013
Mr. Cobb School Board advocate, incidentally, Lisa Hanson DID address the QBE. If you had educated yourself and read the AJC voter guide you would have been privy to her positions and ideology regarding the QBE and also just how to cut spending. Again, unfortunately, many people voted for the incumbent based on ignorance, his being first on the ballot and the success of Cobb County schools. Little did they know who or what they were voting for. The T-splost brought more people to the polls than typical, but whatever the outcome, the people in Cobb now have to deal with Mr. Banks, (his controversy and ill reputation) representing them..
Parent for Kids
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December 16, 2013
I love how Mr. Brink can so easily say "Cut Spending". Ok Mr. Brink... What would you cut? This is typical of people who sit on the sidelines and do not contribute to the process.

Show the people of Cobb county a plan, then we can take you seriously. And by the way, we have been cutting for many years now.

Educate yourself Mr Brink, then you should be able to have a voice.

AmericanMale
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December 16, 2013
The senior exemption generally is a good thing. It was intended to protect seniors who live on a fixed income from taxes which fluctuated, generally upwards at the time due to growth. The property values (tax digest) was strong and growing. The exemption was affordable.

Now, times are different.

The growth has slowed. The tax digest has shrunk dramatically, causing general fund revenues to correspondingly shrink. The district has done with less over the past several years, living within their means.

But now those cost-saving measures are starting to cut into actual effectiveness in the classroom. We can no longer afford the exemption as it stands.

To be fair, many seniors plan their retirement with the exemption in mind. The economy hit their retirement plans, too!

Why not change the law to tie the exemption to the Social Security benefits scale? If you qualify for 30% benefits, you would be exempted from 30% of property taxation. If you qualify for 100% (ie- you rely totally on the fixed income), you would still be 100% exempt from property taxation. It wouldn't solve the crisis, but it would stay true to its original intent and it sure would provide a significant contribution to keeping our educational system strong in Cobb!

Just Wait
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December 16, 2013
If so many people are so willing to pay more in higher property taxes, why don't you just send in a check for a donation? Not everyone believes that throwing more money at education is the solution. The state of Georgia has been doing it for years and you see where we are now. And with few exceptions, the only ones who want to do away with the senior exemption are those WHO ARE NOT SENIORS! They have paid their fair share for many years and deserve the break. Those who have kids in the system should be responsible for the cost. Funny that you don't want the state involved in local education...except for it's money.
AmericanMale
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December 16, 2013
That's right. I'm not senior enough to qualify for the senior exemption, but I'm getting closer to it!

Most all counties in the metro area have some form of exemption for seniors, but Cobb's is the highest!

Did you know most other counties start it at age 65, but Cobb's is available at age 62? Many of them also restrict it to seniors whose income falls below a certain level. Gwinnett's is 65 with incomes below $25,000. They seem to be far better off than Cobb!

Hey, MDJ, why not do a survey of the senior exemptions across the metro area? A headline that says "Is It Time for Another Look at the Senior Exemption?" would get LOTS of readers, I bet!
Politicians get real
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December 16, 2013
JD Van Brink needs to do his homework. Anyone who would like can look over the CCSD budget. Yes, there are a few people at central office that could be cut, but you would still be 70 million in the hole. The district has cut teachers, cut teacher pay and increased class sizes all they can. We need more money and taxes are the only route at this point. The more kids you have, the more money you need. The state says they don't have the money, yet they pork spend like there is no tomorrow. They are not fulfilling the QBE formula and need to be. Trust me, it is an election year so Deal will magically come up with the money. In addition, if any of these politicians were ever doing the right thing, they would cut the senior exemption. No other county has it and we can not afford it any more. They are more worried about their votes than the kids. Let the seniors move, but they won't!
Michelle Sollicito
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December 16, 2013
I totally agree with Politicians get real

There is definitely a lot of bloat at State level. I am going to work on highlighting that bloat as much as possible.

Look at just the top salaries in the Teachers Retirement System at State Level -

Top salaries at State level in Teachers Retirement Fund area

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6cDJKzfqVJURUtucnI3R095NTg/edit?usp=sharing

Why are we paying former employees who are doing nothing at State in Teachers Retirement Fund area

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6cDJKzfqVJUYmU5R2NzWENoblU/edit?usp=sharing

noseriously
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December 16, 2013
When the people over 65 do not pay school taxes and more move in to the county because of it, you eventually have funding issues.
Michelle Sollicito
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December 16, 2013
Agreed! And it is actually those over 62! Do you know that even if those from age 62-65 did NOT get the exemption we would be in much better shape?

You are right that the exemption encourages more seniors to come to Cobb County and ensures future problems with local funding also.

Unfortunately noone appears to be brave enough to run for office on a ticket that says "No more exemptions for Seniors" so it looks like we are stuck with that situation. I hope some day someone is brave enough to at least raise the age from 62 to 65 and maybe phase it out or means test it or something similar - seems unfair that even rich folk like Johnny Isakson take the exemption! He should voluntarily donate instead!
Next Cobb Senior
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December 16, 2013
Ha! I used to live down the street from a former County Commissioner (from a different county) and his wife who moved to Cobb to get the property tax exemption.

I will turn 62 next month. I would vote to remove the senior tax exemption or at least make it less generous. We all should be contributing to school funding. Seniors still need the goods and services that today's students will provide in the future.
lisabhanson
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December 16, 2013
Ms. Ritchie, I can appreciate your willingness to step up to promote awareness of the dire budget issues facing Cobb County Schools. I also tried to enlighten people regarding the budget and spending issues of CCSD when I ran against Mr. Banks in July of 2012, but people were more concerned about the calendar than the budget, and deficit. Many others were simply not aware of the issues facing CCSD... they felt all was great with their schools and chose not to educate themselves on the issues as many voters tend to do. Several of the legislators mentioned in this article were in support of me. Contributed to my campaign, and were in support and favor of a board member who is fiscally conservative. Mr. Banks and Mr. Sweeny, may show their concern NOW, but what has their record of spending been over the last few years? Why was passing SPLOST a priority over taking more of an initiative on controlling the spending? We have beautiful buildings, and many more that will be built with SPLOST funds, however it does no one any good if our district is financially strapped and cannot maintain the infrastructure. Good luck with trying to educate parents on the situation. It is a tough road to hoe. And please as part of your campaign to educate and enlighten, hold those board members responsible for the continued spending that has been the root of the problem for many years.
Michelle Sollicito
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December 16, 2013
Lisa

I would love to talk to you about some of this stuff. As you know I supported your campaign at the time against David Banks but it seems we fell on deaf ears.

However, I cannot agree that we have "beautiful buildings". MountainView and Brumby definitely need new buildings. There are severe health hazards and dangers in both those schools, coupled with the portable classrooms issues. Even EastValley really needs a new building (we have lots of portable classrooms and the building is not in great shape) but we simply do not want to be made into a huge mega school.

I would love to talk to you about where you believe savings could be made in the CCSD budget. I have looked at salaries and though there is a little bloat in a couple of areas, it seems that is nothing compared to the bloat at State level to me.

Please contact me michelle.sollicito@yahoo.com so we can discuss these issues. Anyone else with any insight on either side is welcome to flame me with emails also ;-) Thanks Michelle
@ lisabhanson
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December 16, 2013
Count me among many (i.e. close to 70% support in some East Cobb precincts) who are very thankful SPLOST passed. Had SPLOST not passed the budget situation would be much, much worse as capital expenditures would be paid out of the regular budget which would mean larger classroom sizes, fewer teachers and more furlough days.
Cobb School Advocate
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December 16, 2013
Ms. Hanson, you mention a spending problem by the current and past school boards as the problem with deficits the school system is presently experiencing. It is easy to Monday morning quarterback and make generalizations about cutting spending. As part of your attempting to "educate" voters, how about being very specific with what you would cut from spending that would have kept the school district from being in an $80 million deficit situation.

You lost your election and as a matter of fact, Mr. Banks prevailed with over 50% of the votes despite having some of the above articles "listed" legislators supporting you and another challenger. As an also ran Monday Morning Quarterback is it possible you are also a prognosticator of the future. Did you foresee that our nation would experience an unprecedented economic catastrophe in 2008 that nationally reduced property values by almost half which translated in greatly reduced school revenues. Also, did you campaign about the over $100 million in Cobb County property taxes that is taken by the State of Georgia, redistributed through the existing QBE "equalization formula", to other school systems, including Gwinnett County without one single QBE dollar coming back to Cobb. The simple answer is NO. The State Legislature has ignored this disparity for years and has ignored school boards pleas to address the antiquated "QBE" funding formulas. This is nothing more than an "Obama" type scheme of robbing "Peter to pay Paul" in the name of "Fairness". The CCSD is required by law to balance their budget and over the past four years have had to cut programs, increase class size and reduce staff and teacher positions by almost 1400 personnel. Complaining and pointing fingers is not a solution and is simply typical of a want-a-be politician. If you want to be taken seriously offer alternatives and be specific.

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