Cobb school board member Scott Sweeney raises eyebrows after penning SPLOST article
by Lindsay Field
February 14, 2013 09:00 AM | 7312 views | 42 42 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County School Board member Scott Sweeney <br> Photo by Todd Hull
Cobb County School Board member Scott Sweeney
Photo by Todd Hull
slideshow

Ed. Note: The full text of Sweeney's article is available at the bottom of the page.

Kimberley Euston said she was surprised to pick up a copy of a local magazine and see an article authored by a Cobb school board member promoting the SPLOST IV referendum coming before voters in March.

The article penned by school board member Scott Sweeney likely did not break any laws, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, but it raised eyebrows among those keeping a close watch on the political activities behind the controversial SPLOST renewal.

“When I saw the article (Tuesday) I was shocked because it wasn’t written as Scott Sweeney, a Cobb parent and taxpayer, but Scott Sweeney, the Post 6 (east Cobb) school board representative,” said Euston, chair of the Cobb County School District’s Facilities and Technology Committee. “It is my understanding that an elected official cannot publicly encourage people to vote one way or the other on a referendum.”

Euston was appointed by Sweeney to serve on the F&T Committee, which oversees SPLOST-related projects.

“I support the concept of SPLOST and we need SPLOST to pass, but when the board does things such as publicly promote SPLOST and they still have questionable projects in the SPLOST IV notebook that’s not related to educational purposes, this gives the public ammunition to vote SPLOST down,” Euston said.

Sweeney said he did write the piece, titled “Why you should vote to continue Ed-SPLOST,” for the February edition of “Around Walton” magazine but did not write the headline.

“For several months, I’ve been asked to write and have written articles for Around Walton,” Sweeney said in an email Wednesday. “In the articles, I share my opinions, not those of the board.”

This month’s article outlines what previous SPLOST initiatives have done for east Cobb schools, including Wheeler High and Sope Creek Elementary schools, why a fourth SPLOST is needed and what east Cobb residents will see on the horizon if the referendum is approved next month.

Walton High School is expected to get nearly $40 million in upgrades, and an east Cobb area middle school will be built at a ticket price of $29 million. These are just two of hundreds of projects proposed to be done throughout Cobb Schools with the 1-cent sales tax collection.

In all, Cobb Schools is expected to get around $717 million from SPLOST IV and Marietta City Schools $54 million. It will be collected between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2018. SPLOST III collections conclude Dec. 31.

The second-to-last-line in Sweeney’s article states, “I encourage you to continue Cobb County’s support for Ed-SPLOST,” and he directs readers to where they can learn more about the initiative.

“It’s my personal opinion, that was never intended as a representation of the board,” he explained.

Lauren Kane with the Georgia Attorney General’s Office said, “Assuming there was no expenditure of public funds, nothing improper occurred.”

Euston was very outspoken about her dissatisfaction with the SPLOST IV project list during the public hearings prior to the school board’s approval of it in November.

Euston also said the magazine article isn’t the first time she’s seen or heard Sweeney doing what she believes is advocating for SPLOST IV.

She said he participated in a town hall meeting at Dodgen Middle School Monday night.

“He was advocating for the importance of SPLOST to pass,” she said, adding that she recorded the meeting. “I also know he’s had conversations with individuals promoting the need for SPLOSTs, including with principals in the post that he represents. I was very surprised that he is openly talking about the need for SPLOST to pass and encouraging people to vote in support of SPLOST as an elected official, particularly on school grounds.”

In an email Wednesday, Sweeney addressed the issue of the town hall meeting.

“Acting in my board member capacity during the recent Cobb GOP breakfast and the Area 3 & 4 School Council meeting at Dodgen Middle School, I shared information about the proposed Ed-SPLOST from an educational, not an advocacy, perspective.”

Scott Sweeney article about SPLOST IV by

Comments
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Point of Order
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February 15, 2013
Cobb's current sales tax is 6%, not 8%. Here's the break-out.

4% State 1% Cobb County SPLOST 1% Ed-SPLOST

Most Grocery items are exempt from the state portion so your receipt will often show non-exempt items at 6% and exempt items at 2%. It's not 6% 2% to equal 8% as 'Just Sayin' below is leading people to believe.

The essential ballot question can be reduced to this - shall the current special tax be reimposed?

Sales tax remains at 6% if it is supported and will fall to 5% of it is not supported. Your current sales tax rate either remains the same or falls. It would not increase.
Just Sayin'....
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February 15, 2013
Point of Order....you are splitting hairs, and you know it. It does not matter how many ways you divide it, it basically adds up to the same total. The last time I checked, most of us have to spend money on more than just groceries, and 8% is 8% even if you like to think of it as 4 here and 1 here and another 1 here, etc., etc.
anonymous
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February 19, 2013
@justsayin'- Check the tax table, we pay 6% sales tax. I am not sure where you are getting 8%.
S F Palmer
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February 15, 2013
Since when are SPLOST funds to be used for maintenance? The SPLOST Legislation specifically prohibits this. After reviewing the project list, most of the items, I note, are for maintenance ie, painting, replacing carpet, electrical repairs, bathroom modifications,roof and skylight replacement. Oh please, tell me, how in the world these can be covered as special when they're plain old maintenance which we do to maintain our own homes. What are the school taxes being used for?? Please tell me why Walton and Pope need Theaters and Performing Arts Facilities? Is this why we need a pot of gold for such extravagant spending? This is unbelievable. Lassister already has a beautiful and expensive Performing Arts Center and at what cost and for what reason?? Are we preparing our children for the real world, Hollywood or College??
Samuel Adams
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February 15, 2013
From the shrill and nasty tone of these comments, it's obvious that SPLOST advocates -- those whose livelihoods and power depend on the huge pot of money SPLOST provides -- are absolutely scared to death that the next ED SPLOST is going to fail at the ballot box the same way the transportation SPLOST failed so miserably last summer.

Considering the players are mostly the same, it's interesting to see they're taking NOTHING for granted this time, even resorting to blatant campaigning by school board members who are possibly beholden to them, even resorting to bribing the Walton High "stakeholders" and then smearing a dedicated servant to the system, Kimberly Euston, who is only trying to do the job Sweeney appointed her for in the first place. Things never change....and it's not the MDJ who makes the news btw. They're just the messenger.
Fred M
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February 15, 2013
As an informed Cobb County resident I am sick to death of reading articles in the M.D.J. and hearing people like Euston rant with unsubstantiated comments, grasping at minutia. Sitting at the Area 3 and Area 4 School Council Meeting (not a Town Hall Meeting), I heard Sweeney answer the question planted by Euston concerning the dollar value of the Walton re-build. Sweeney stated nothing but the facts. I find it amusing to hear Euston reprimand Sweeney for speaking out of line, when Euston herself was reprimanded by members of her own F&T Committee at a public meeting for speaking on behalf of that committee against the SPLOST Notebook. (incidentally, the F&T Committee overwhelmingly voted to support the SPLOST 4 notebook) I encourage my fellow Cobb County voters to do their homework, collect the facts and don't just listen to uninformed trouble makers trying to keep themselves in the spot light.
Papermill gal
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February 15, 2013
Dude, I don't know Kimberly Euston personally, but do know of the hours she has spent on behalf of citizens, trying to keep the SPLOST expenditures honest. Just because she's ticked off all the Walton parents who believe they deserve a new school and are willing to do and support ANYTHING to get it, i.e. crooked politicians, scheming contractors, those fumbling for their share of the Billion Dollar CCSD POT of Gold...you don't need to attack this woman. What have YOU done, sir, to make your community a better place? Or what contract are YOU bidding on? Don't assume you are the only one watching. Some of us out here have nothing to gain, yet we are watching too.
Laurel Rae Harmon
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February 15, 2013
Mr. Sweeney in a recent meeting at Dodgen Misddle School, tried to answer my question "How are you planning on raising teacher salaries, provide teachers for the 56 additional classrooms, and decrease furlough days when SPLOST does not pay for these things by answering. "I am open to suggestions." Five New theatres, laptops for all the teachers, $30M career center, new tennis courts, secondary gyms, and new surfaces for tracks are nice things. Let's support our teachers and students first. This is not an economy for building monuments.
anonymous
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February 15, 2013
As a parent that was there at the meeting, can't help bu notice that you're conveniently leaving out the complete answer Sweeney provided. Sweeney clearly articulated that the district will receive less funds (i.e. federal, state & local) this year and in future years for it's regular budget covering teachers salaries.

SPLOST funds cannot be used to pay teacher salaries. We're in an escalating cost environment (i.e. health benefits, retirement, salary step-increases, etc...) coupled with a decline in revenues.
Andrew Idell
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March 15, 2013
@anonymous

So you just made Laurel's argument for her...if SPLOST has nothing to do with teacher pay, then why pass it?

If there is an issue with getting less funding from other Federal and State sources to go into the compensation budget (which again, SPLOST cannot legally fund), then let's work on either a specific tax for teacher pay or better yet a cut in spending on projects that have dubious benefits for teachers and students alike.

If your thought was getting the SPLOST money would somehow free up money for other things like teacher pay, that's not how bean-counters (especially political ones) work. The SPLOST money goes in bucket A for projects X,Y and Z...nothing else. Even if they wanted the funds re-appropriated they'd be breaking the law.
Thomas J Palmer
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February 14, 2013
We just want to help the kids...it's all for the kids. E-SPLOST does not fund astro truf for practice fields,(sure) does not provide granite counter tops for concessions stands, does not provide new paint for walls so the kids can learn more, and does not provide new electrical service so the kids can learn better, and new surfaces for the tennis courts so the kids can learn better. Hey it's only 718 million..c'mon Cobb Taxpayers...pony up. 718 Million over 48 months...we can do that on one leg. Georgia ranks 47th in high school grads in the USA. We have had SPLOST for how many years....oh.keep it going !!!
Andrew Idell
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March 15, 2013
Amen!
Lance Lamberton
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February 14, 2013
Clearly Mr. Sweeney is advocating for the SPLOST in every possible way...in print, at forums held on public and private property...you name it. The question is, is it legal for an elected official to do so after the election has been called. If not, he should be held accountable.
Cobb WHINERS
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February 14, 2013
I wonder what your property values would be without the SPLOST or if we did not have principled leadership......just look at DeKalb.

Shame on the MDJ for trying to again create controversy where it does not exist.

Another poor article from a mediocre MDJ reporter. Maybe you should take the time to present the facts and not this sensationalized trash.
anonymous
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February 15, 2013
Shame on you for not realizing that Cobb schools were excellent PRIOR to SPLOST. Since SPLOST began, it's all been about the money, the contracts and those willing to sell their souls for a share of the pot.

You sound just like one of the elitists in the Cobb Chamber leadership. We're onto you buddy.
DejaVu Deja Vu
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February 15, 2013
This is interesting... the entire contents of this post were some of Sweeeney's talking points. When using Dekalb and/or Clayton as examples, please make sure you also refer to the corruption, FBI investigations and recent arrests of elected officials and police officers in Dekalb. Yes- Cobb may be heading in that direction. There's a long list of Cobb officials who probably deserve the perp-walk.
JR in Mableton
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February 14, 2013
Cobb County is one of the largest school systems in the state and in the USA. You should be proud that the 1% for education goes to run a no-debt school system.

Do your homework and see how much it really cost the county when the school system was forced to sell bonds?

This is a no-brainer.

Scott Sweeney was not advocating for the SPLOST. Here is the problem.....when everything about the SPLOST is positive, it appears like advocating.

What are the negatives? a top rate school system, no debt, improved facilities, new curriculum materials........
Alan W.
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February 14, 2013
Mr. Anonymous, you comment about the granite counter tops for the Walton concession stand NOT being donated is incorrect. They were donated by Crystal Marble Company and fabricated by a Walton football players parent that is in the granite fabrication business. Crystal Marble Company had some left over slabs from a previous project and donated to the school. Granite will last a lifetime vs other products that may have to be replaced several years later.

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED
Invest in Education
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February 14, 2013
Everyone benefits from increased housing values by being in a highly regarded school district. Additionally, having strong educational institutions attracts business and economic opportunity. Yet no one wants to pay to support the schools. Anti-SPLOST voters coupled with the property tax exemption of senior residents spells doomsday for the quality of education in Cobb County.
David Staples
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February 14, 2013
This SPLOST isn't nearly as much about education as it is about sports and recreation. How about this for a new motto for the CCSD:

Cobb County: Furloughing Teachers While Building Theaters and Gymnasiums! Score!
Exactly
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February 14, 2013
We are a debt free county. People are uneducated on how SPLOST works. SPLOST does NOT allow the county to pay salaries, transportation or maintenance. It is strictly for technology, new buildings, updates to buildings and such. If SPLOST does not pass, ALL projects for schools will have to happen through borrowing funds. Less money for staff, higher class sizes, and dilapidated buildings is what would result. I totally agree that we are short money so we need to utilize what we do have which is raising the millage rate and changing the exemption for seniors. Raise the age to 65 and cut it to 50%. Seniors will be sorry because we have already turned the corner as a minority majority district!
David Staples
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February 15, 2013
To Exactly - you are correct about what SPLOST can be used for. But when we build these new buildings, we then have to pay for the operations and maintenance (O&M) including staffing, which is supposed to come out of the general budget. So how many more days should teachers be furloughed in order to pay O&M for these new facilities?
Be Careful
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February 14, 2013
To all who are posting that you were at the meeting and he didn't speak pro SPLOST, did you even read the article?

He wrote an article that appeared in a magazine.

@ Be Careful
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February 14, 2013
Yes... read the article where it is Euston who made reference to the attended meeting. Euston says Sweeney advocated. Witnesses have expressed a different perspective.

Hearing Ms. Euston's rants for some time, witnesses' opinions have more clout.

Ms. Euston believes it's okay to express her personal opinion contrary to a committee. She did so repeatedly as chair of the F&T committee which approved the SPLOST project list.
Fed Up in Cobb
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February 14, 2013
Thumbs up to Euston for raising the issue and continuing to speak out against wasteful spending. Sweeney was on school property this week promoting SPLOST. How is that not a use of our money? He is also a paid board member and wrote the article as a board member - again, I ask the Attorney General - how is that not using our tax dollars?
CCT
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February 14, 2013
I attended the informational session at Dodgen Middle School, and it was clear that Scott Sweeney was NOT advocating for people to vote for SPLOST. In fact, I thought he was very careful to stay neutral and very fact-oriented in his responses to the question-and-answer session. The budgetary needs of our schools were made clear, of course, but Scott was very choiceful in all of his responses to be clear that there are other options to answer the budget needs with SPLOST being a choice that simply spreads the tax burden across more taxpayers. I should also say that when one parent started to advocate for SPLOST in the session, she was clearly told by Karen Hallacy that she could not do so in that forum... so the "rules" were followed in that informational session.
Amy C.
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February 14, 2013
I was at the Monday meeting at Dodgen Middle School and found Mr. Sweeney's comments to be informative and enlightening. Many facts that came out of this meeting were new to me. I didn't know that almost 90% of the budget covers salaries. I also did not know that Cobb is one of the few districts in the country that is debt free - thanks to SPLOST. This was the type of information imparted by Mr. Sweeney. Factual statements. Informational statements. When did it become an issue for those in the know to help educate the voters? I appreciate Mr. Sweeney taking time to answer questions, share facts and to make himself available to those in his Post.
anonymous
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February 14, 2013
Mr. Sweeney's comments were definitely an attempt to influence the minds of voters to vote in favor of SPLOST IV, but he lied. The granite counter tops in the concession stands at Walton were not donated as Mr. Sweeney says. Additionally, your comments were also in favor of SPLOST. As you said you were a co-president of a the East Side Elementary school PTA, you crossed a line from education, to advocating political position, putting your PTA's tax free status at risk.
Just Sayin'....
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February 14, 2013
Amy - Did Mr. Sweeney mention that SPLOST money can only be used for capital projects and not routine maintenance? Did Mr. Sweeney mention the extra items that are on the SPLOST IV agenda that are beyond the scope of current needs versus current wants.

@Mary Contrary - How unaware do you think we are that even though the sales tax will remain at 6%, that we won't be paying more??? It will be an extra amount on top of the sales tax. Please think before you respond. According to a current sales receipt I have in front of me we are paying an additional 2% on top of the 6%.
Mary Contrary
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February 14, 2013
Aren't we tired yet of school board members who have their own agenda and are comfortable ignoring ethics rules to promote it?

If anyone is paying attention, Sweeney has just violated his own promise to adhere to the ethics rules adopted by this board.

But, I guess if we aren't going to hold the other board members to any sort of ethics standards, why should we worry when Sweeney is out there trying to raise our taxes?
@ Mary Contrary
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February 14, 2013
Today - your Cobb County sales tax is 6%.

If Ed-SPLOST passes the Cobb County sales tax remains 6%.
David Staples
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February 14, 2013
...and if the proposal fails to pass, the sales tax goes down to 5%, allowing us to keep more of our own money instead of funding replacement secondary / auxiliary gymnasiums and theaters.

Want to use the money for education? Great! But that would require a different list of projects than the current proposal.
Joseph Pond
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February 14, 2013
And he will continue to advocate as long as he is allowed to do it. Tis the Cobb County way- the County Commissioners do it as well. Sad, sad state of affairs~

Chairman Sweeney- we are smart enough to realize that sharing one sided information is advocacy- regardless of the wrapper that you put on it.
AmericanMale
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February 14, 2013
... yet not smart enough to realize that he's not "Chairman Sweeney."
JoEllen Smith
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February 14, 2013
I was at the meeting at Dodgen the other night. Mr. Sweeney did not advocate for SPLOST in my recollection. He answered questions posed by the audience and gave budgetary information. In fact, at one point, the host for the evening (a Dodgen parent, not Sweeney) began stating how "We have to vote for SPLOST" and another panelist, Karen Hallacy, immediately cut her off and advised her that she could not advocate on school property. As someone who has hosted a similar forum, I know how much conversation goes on beforehand about being scrupulous to educate and not advocate. It is a fine line but carefully followed.
go away joellen
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March 11, 2013
We don't care if you hosted a forum. You are a shrill woman and do not represent the people in any way shape or form. The voters spoke in July.
Be Careful
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February 14, 2013
It should not be a surprise that he wrote the article.

The school board has been totally open about wanting every penny they can get their hands out.

SPLOST money was supposed to be "special". But now it's part of the annual budget that they count on. They want the SPLSOT to pass. They are such poor money managers they can't balance the budget without it.

Of course they are going to promote it as often as possible.
Just askin'
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February 14, 2013
I'm a SPLOST supporter, but I have to ask why

McCleskey Middle School has 653 students and is

now twice the size it was when it had 1,200 students? How do we justify that kind of expenditure in these hard times? Seems wasteful.
@Just askin'
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February 14, 2013
What, pray tell, do you do to a school when enrollment drops? Shrink the school to fit the students?

The addition that is being completed now is enlarging parts of the school that can barely fit the 653 students they have. Kids were literally sitting on top of each other in the band, orchestra, and choral rooms.

McCleskey Alumni Parent
IceDogg
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February 14, 2013
Yet, you're still a self-proclaimed "SPLOST supporter" despite the obvious waste. Keep handing out those blank checks and don't hold anyone accountable. Great philosophy there.

I will be voting a confident "NO". CCSD needs to reign-in their spending, just like the rest of us - and the businesses we all work for.
east cobb mom
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February 20, 2013
I agree...why does east cobb need a new middle school??? There are teachers at Mabry that have small group in regular size classrooms and then the rooms sit unused for over half the day...maybe we just need a rezoning to fill up the schools we already have and maybe we need better management of the classroom space.
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