The SPLOST: ‘Yes’ vote best option for funding local schools
March 15, 2013 01:14 AM | 5579 views | 31 31 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
COBB RESIDENTS have a choice Tuesday between education improvement or education stagnation — or worse. They can vote to continue levying a 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on themselves and thereby keep enhancing what are two of the best public school systems in Georgia; or they can reject the tax and watch the Cobb and Marietta systems stagnate, then decline.

We’ve heard plenty about “SPLOST fatigue,” and to be sure, it seems like one SPLOST referendum is scarcely finished before another is being ballyhooed. Yes, the state Legislature is considering (although our understanding is it won’t pass this year) a bill allowing for “split penny SPLOSTS” that would reduce the number and frequency of SPLOST referendums. But that reform will not come soon enough to avoid the need for Tuesday’s vote.

In addition, the state has cut deeply into school funding during the Great Recession. The Cobb system has lost a cumulative $353 million from the state since 2003 and the Marietta system nearly $27 million. And partly as a result the Cobb system is looking at an $80 million budget shortfall for FY ’14.

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TAX INCREASES are a tough sell in the current political and economic environment. But this is a not a tax increase. Rather, it’s a continuation of an existing tax. Moreover, it’s a tax that local residents in their wisdom have passed three times before, and which has paid untold dividends for the two local systems. Those earlier SPLOSTs have paid for construction of 22 schools, 2,372 classrooms, hundreds of maintenance projects, eliminated 550 “portable classrooms” (i.e. trailers) and purchased more than 46,000 computers to replace older computers.

Of equal or even greater importance, those earlier SPLOSTs have left the Cobb system debt-free and have the Marietta system poised to also be debt free. What that means is that revenue from earlier SPLOSTs was used to pay off $184 million in Cobb bond debt and $53.8 million in Marietta bond debt, leaving the Cobb system (and hopefully soon the Marietta system) able to pay cash rather than borrow money for capital improvements. It means that local taxpayers will see all of the revenue from the SPLOST go toward its intended uses, rather than seeing millions diverted to bankers and bond attorneys. Even in an era of historically low interest rates, being debt-free is paying off in spades for local taxpayers. And it will save them even more once the economy turns around and interest rates start heading north once again.

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IF PASSED, SPLOST IV will be levied for five years and bring in a projected $717.8 million for the county school system and $55.4 million for the Marietta School System.

In light of Cobb’s geographic position astride three interstate highways and the status of its malls as “destination shopping,” it’s reasonable to expect a disproportionate share of the tax would be paid by non-county residents.

Unlike last summer’s failed transportation SPLOST that was deceptively marketed and would have resulted in barely perceptible congestion relief had it passed, the Ed-SPLOST the county will be voting on will have easily measurable benefits. Earlier SPLOSTs were geared toward building schools to keep up with the explosive growth of the 1990s and early 2000s. SPLOST III and now SPLOST IV are focused more on renovating school facilities of earlier decades to extend their usefulness and give them more vitality.

Replacements would be built for Walton and Osborne high schools and an as-yet undetermined middle school and two elementary schools. A high-school career academy would be built too. After all, not every student is cut out for college — and frankly, we all know plumbers and mechanics and so forth who never lack for work; and students with college degrees who can’t seem to find a job.

Among the plans the Marietta system has for its SPLOST revenues would be wiping out the remaining $3 million in bond debt for the construction of the new theater at Marietta High School; paying off all the system’s remaining bonded indebtedness; and $5 million in upgrades to historic Northcutt Stadium, where the Marietta High Blue Devils play their home games.

The SPLOST would also help the two systems pay for new textbooks, school buses, security fences and surveillance cameras. (State law prohibits SPLOST funds from being used for salaries.) And SPLOST revenues would be used to keep the computers and related infrastructure current. As Marietta Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck put it, “Classroom computers used to be a ‘want,’ then they were a frill, but now they’re an expectation in the minds of students and parents.”

The list of projects to be funded by the SPLOST is not perfect; but then such lists never are. And this one is close enough to warrant your vote.

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RAISING PROPERTY TAXES to fund local education is not a choice, because the county is already just a whisker under the 20-mill cap set by the state. So voters have three options.

• They can reject the SPLOST, meaning that most if not all current and future improvements would have to be paid for by issuing bonds (and seeing a big chunk of the bond revenue stay with the bankers).

• They can do nothing — that is reject the SPLOST and also reject future bond referendums, and see the school systems quickly erode and drag local property values down with them.

• Or they can vote “Yes” for the SPLOST on March 19.

The best option is obvious — and we strongly encourage you to vote Yes.

Comments
(31)
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My NO Vote
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March 18, 2013
I'm tired of paying for some bureaucrat's pet projects and I'm tired of paying to support the children of illegals. I send my child to private school in Cobb County and I'm voting NO. If that means higher property taxes, then I will fight that as well.

MY MY
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March 18, 2013
My how short sighted you are. Most people know why private school parents tend to vote no. It's harder to justify sending your kids to private schools (most of them are substandard) when the public schools are thriving.
disappointed in you
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March 18, 2013
Good for you that you can afford private schools. That's your choice to make if you have the money. But you live in Cobb County and, as a resident, I would hope that you would want your ENTIRE COMMUNITY to thrive, not just those living within your home. Having a good education in Cobb County for ALL residents, regardless of their income level, is what is needed. If you own a business or work for a business, or are a customer of Cobb County businesses, don't you want educated employees? This tax has nothing to do with educating illegals. That is a separate issue to address in another forum.

City over Tea?
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March 18, 2013
Local control of education dictates that funding sources should be controlled locally. Cobb County residents should not get to vote to affect City of Marietta schools one way or the other.

If majority of City of Marietta voters give this sales tax the thumbs down, but the votes from the rest of the County tip it to "Yes" overall, aren't non-city residents establishing a tax within the city limits where they do not live and controlling the City of Marietta educational system in which non-residents should have no control whatsoever?

Or more likely, if Liberal Marietta votes Yes for Taxes, while Tea Party Cobb votes No, but Marietta's Yes votes tip the balance (along with the other cities) to Yes overall, haven't the City Liberals required a tax to be levied county wide, affecting schools in unincorporated Cobb where these City Liberals do not live?Pull back the sheets on this vote too,

Roger Hines! Where are you in our time of need? You are a big supporter of constitutional issues (so you claimed, anyway)! Are you writing up your lawsuit paperwork right now?

SPLOST ED
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March 18, 2013
I'm a conservative and will be voting YES! MOST of my conservative friends are or have already voted YES. Let's see-

1.) Reasonable SPLOST list

2.) Sales Tax instead of property tax

3.) No Bond interest to pay

4.) Everyone pays sales tax
CC Bus Driver
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March 17, 2013
Ricky is lobbying for us to spread the word to vote yes. Ricky should have been shown the door after the Grand Jury found the Transportation Dept to be overwhelmed with "fear and intimidation." That "fear and intimidation" is alive and well today.
dustoff
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March 17, 2013
If the BOE spent half the time ensuring students were taught as they do trying to cram a SPLOST down our throats to build more monuments then I could vote for it.

Why are they spending millions of dollars for theaters, and building schools that look like corporate headquarters of fortune 500 companies.

They took woodworking, metal working and other craft related classes away years ago and now want to build a $30 million school to teach it. Why not just let the kids enroll in the vo-tech school for those classes??????

I voted no due to the arrogant attitude of the BOE and the idiots at Glover Street who make these bad decisions.
anonymous
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March 17, 2013
No. Cobb schools need to look at their budget and their needs compared to their wants. You can expand government as far as taxpayers will allow. I say go back to the drawing board and come back with a budget that convinces me that these are real NEEDS. Teachers get paid far more than the private sector when you factor in paid days off. Pleezeee, don't bore with me with unpaid overtime. I work it everyday. There is so much pork in education, if we cut out the pork, we would be raising Baby Einsteins rather than falling behind other countries that beat the behind out of U.S. teachers with less working hours. Show me where our U.S. educators are more than marginal at best than I might, just might, listen to you.
Ole Man
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March 16, 2013
The world will probably end if ESPLOST fails. So be it. There is so much "Vote for this so we can find out what's in it" in this pork laden project list.

It's not for the kids! The project list is for political special interest rather than educating children.

Over 50 new class rooms, but no money for teachers. New athletic facilities but no instructional benefit for the children.

A huge money pit is the "Career Academy". $30 Million allocated for a yet to be determined building, that will never be built. The land, staff, teachers, maintenance, all to be funded from additional future taxes.

The estimated $773 million dollars could be better spent for things that will truly improve your children's education.

Keep that 1% in your wallet, buy your child the book the ESPLOST will not.

VOTE NO
DisputeOleMan
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March 17, 2013
Ole Man, this Career Academy idea that so many people are opposed to are what has long been forgotten that was in place in Cobb when I graduated in 70. This Career Academy thinking that got lost somewhere somehow got me into a job where I am now making $83,000 a year without a college degree.
anonymous
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March 17, 2013
What part of "you can't use SPLOST for salaries" do you not understand??? And, exactly how long has the entire SPLOST project list been posted on their website to ..... "see what's in it".
Know your facts
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March 18, 2013
By law, Ed-SPLOST receipts can be used only for school-related capital improvements. NOT salaries.
Not Sure
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March 15, 2013
I would feel much more comfortable voting for this if I didn't perceive the Central Office as being administratively "top heavy" as well as arrogant, condesending, and evasive with the citizens who foot most of the bills. "Biting the hand that feeds you" isn't very smart.
Just Sayin'....
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March 15, 2013
I do have children in the system and we all seem to be overlooking the obvious. While new buildings and equipment are nice, this SPLOST will do NOTHING to increase the level of education our children will receive. It does not pay the salaries, nor does it lower the class sizes, nor does it provide educational opportunities for advanced curriculum. All it does is create building projects. AFTER we can pay our teachers what we are contracted to pay them, and after we get our class sizes down to manageable numbers, and after we can offer the latest curriculum, then let's build.

In a few months from now, or sooner, we will begin to hear rumblings from the legislature and the various county governments about tax increases, regardless of what happens with SPLOST. Then you will find yourself with both.

The chamber wants this to pass because it will bring construction jobs to Cobb. If it were really for educating our youth they would be screaming about funding for the classrooms...not building more.
JR in Mableton
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March 15, 2013
I don't have any children in the school system, but I have already Voted YES.
Cobb County Parent
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March 18, 2013
THANK YOU! I would never vote to take away the school tax exemption for seniors by the way.

Everyone benefits if we have a county of educated citizens. I appreciate the support of all seniors, childless residents, and residents whose own children are in private schools. Good facilities are part of a good education.

This vote is for facility school maintenance and improvements. By law, teacher salaries cannot be funded with Ed-SPLOST. It is for capital expenditures that the state refuses to sufficiently fund.
No Tax
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March 15, 2013
Ottis is rolling over in his grave now that the MDJ is being managed by the Cobb Chamber. Voting no is not a vote against kids. Voting no is a vote against mismanagement and waste.
@ No Tax
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March 15, 2013
Thankfully there is a business community that is strongly supportive of education throughout Cobb County. They recognize that their business will survive when schools are supported. All you have to do is look at Clayton and DeKalb Counties to witness how important schools are to property values and economic vitality.

Imagine the alternative.

Will businesses choose to locate in a community that doesn't support it's schools? NO and there goes your economic and job growth.

Ask any Realtor what they understand is the most important criteria for a prospective homeowner and they will tell you it is "schools."

Applaud the business community for their support!
@No Tax
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March 15, 2013
Waste is throwing away the $200M that would be raised by visitors and commuters to Cobb County.

Waste is having the use our operational budget (the way we pay teachers) to fund capital projects. Meaning fewer teachers and larger classes.

Voting no is a WASTE.
David Staples
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March 16, 2013
Perhaps those businesses can tell us how they plan on paying to operate and maintain the extra non-education related facilities being proposed? I have yet to see any answers and from talking with several school board members, nobody wants to address this part of it. Isn't that part of what long term planning is about? It's like buying a car with a one time bonus and not figuring the cost of gas and insurance into your budget.
THE TRUTH
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March 15, 2013
Great article of support for our school systems, the amazing work they do and their relevance to our overall economic success in this great and vibrant community of Cobb.

I applaude this endorsement!
Terrific!
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March 15, 2013
Hooray for the MDJ! It's about time they got behind our schools. This editorial is right on, and well-presented. SPLOST is a no-brainer, folks, so go vote YES. This is going to be a close referendum, so every vote will be critical.
Concerned Cobb
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March 15, 2013
This is a great article with lots of facts but I am not sure I like the tone. It seems as if the author writes it from a doomsday perspective. Yes, if the SPLOST doesn't pass, it will be difficult for the school systems but that doesn't mean that the school system will go down into the toilet. As any good business, they will find ways to do the task at hand. It is great to be debt free but it may not always be feasible if the SPLOST doesn't pass. There are other avenues to explore if SPLOST doesn't pass.

I am not sure how I am voting right now. I see what the schools have done with SPLOSTS in the past. At times, they have changed what they have listed in the notebooks, overspent or quietly added projects. The CCSD board cannot seem to manage money at times. Yes, the state cut funds but that means that you cut spending as well and I have not seen that as the case. Someone on another blog keeps saying its for the teachers and the children and that's true, but they will survive. The boards will find a way to continue the excellence that occurs everyday. If the SPLOST failing makes everything fall to pot, it wasn't as strong as we thought to begin with.
Operations!
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March 15, 2013
Yes... the district will find ways to do the task at hand. Reality is that will be done with significantly less revenue should SPLOST fail.

How will new buses, textbooks, technology upgrades, HVAC and roof replacements be paid for if SPLOST fails? Drum roll .............. Out of the OPERATIONS Budget.

This means less dollars allocated for teacher salaries resulting in larger classrooms, fewer teachers and the likelihood of more furlough days.
David Staples
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March 16, 2013
You speak of Operations... but have you considered how we're going to pay to operate these new gymnasiums and theaters? The general budget is already strained. How many days are we going to furlough teachers in order to pay to operate these new recreational facilities?
Laurel Rae Harmon
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March 15, 2013
Voting NO to this SPLOST does not mean you don't support teachers or education. It means that we will not give money to a career center that can not be staffed and probably will never be built. It means that you know that there have been needed renovations that have been put off in oder to build theaters. It means you know that there are schools in the district that have some of the worst graduation rates in the county and you don't care about new paint and track resurfacing.

The school district has come to believe that they can continue SPLOST and throw in the Education title and people will vote for it. The author is right, this is continuing a tax not an increase. The county voted to raise this tax in the 80's and has kept it. I am offering everyone a tax break by voting No.

Furthermore, voting No on Tuesday doesn't mean you are voting no forever. Tell the school board that if they can come up with a better proposal then the slop they are handing us to write it up and put it up for a vote in November.
Concerned Cobb
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March 15, 2013
Completely agree. The board rides on the coattail of SPLOST each time. Their thinking is that we will pass it because of the teachers and students and our guilt. The more I read about the mishandling of the past SPLOST notebooks, the more inclined I am to vote no.
Wrong Laurel Rae
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March 15, 2013
You conveniently cast away Cobb voters' long-term steadfast support for education SPLOST project lists.

How is it that 9 new schools were built in West Cobb? - SPLOST

How is it that Clarkdale, East Side and Mableton elementary received new schools and Smyrna is set to receive a new school? - SPLOST

How is it that much needed renovations are taking place at Wheeler and Harrison? - SPLOST

How is it that the district has removed 90% of the trailers? - SPLOST

How will the district continue to address capital needs absent capital funding? - From the operations budget.

In a cavalier manner, you've discredited Cobb voters who have consistently supported the SPLOST project lists.

Fact Check - Don't know where you do your research... Ed-SPLOST has been in effect in Cobb since 1996, not the 80's. It's also resulted in the district being debt free which is a great thing.

What is or are your solution(s) to addressing the long-term capital needs of the district?

Be mindful that capital expenses addressed with current operations revenue will result in significant operations cuts elsewhere (ie. by most estimates, salaries & benefits is roughly 90% of the budget).

Specifics appreciated!
tripp allen
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March 15, 2013
Continuing splost has many far reaching advatages for Cobb county residents. Everyone benefits from a strong school system. Housing prices are directly influenced by the schools. The better the school system , the more your house sells for. Look at what is happening in Dekalb. THe Dunwoody homeowners asscoiation has invested $5000in researchiing the possibilty of creating a city school system because of the fiasco in Dekalb. They see if the school system continues to deteriote it will derectly affect their home values. If your home values decreases then the funding for schools goes down, becuase school are run on property taxes. That is why we continue to have deficit issues, because of state funding cuts and less income from property taxes. At some point you run out of ways to run the school system. Already classs sizes are huge and teachers are furlowed, which directly affects your children.

To sum it up, if you are not a person that believes that splost is beneficial to teachers and students, then vote for it for your financial well being. Even if you no longer have children it directly effects you. It is a proven fact that good schools means more money indirectly in our pocket over the long haul.
David Staples
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March 16, 2013
"What is or are your solution(s) to addressing the long-term capital needs of the district?"

Perhaps you didn't read Laurel's comment fully enough, so I'll re-post that part for you..

"Furthermore, voting No on Tuesday doesn't mean you are voting no forever. Tell the school board that if they can come up with a better proposal then the slop they are handing us to write it up and put it up for a vote in November."

Additionally, when we build these new theaters and other facilities, the operations and maintenance won't be paid for by the SPLOST - it will be paid for out of the general budget. I'd like to hear your ideas of how we're going to pay to operate them without furloughing teachers? Why build something you can't pay to operate and maintain?

As Laurel said, come back to us with a better project list that focuses on education - not sports and recreation.
tripp allen
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March 18, 2013
You ask what are the long term solutions to the financial needs of the school system. Well here they are.

1. Cobb County residents over 62 do not have to pay property taxes. No other surburban county does this. I would grandfather in all residents that are curently over 62 and require all residents in the future to pay their property taxes, and this is coming from a fiscally conserviative person. We cannot continue to function every year with millions of dollars worth of deficits. That would be a huge step in solving our finacial problems.

2. Running the new facilties will cost no more than running older facilties . Matter of fact it will more likely cost less, because the older facilties need constant upkeep. Most of the older schools in the county cannot even have assembles with the whole student body because the gymnasiums are not big enough. The new schools you can.Was is wrong to build such large facilities at the new schools built over the last 10 Years that could house the students?

In closing I am just a person that believes that the school is the focal point of the community. Building a functioning facility that serves the needs of the students and community does nothing but enhance our county. I believe in the real rounded student and that a education entails more than the classroom. No offense to science, but I have exercised a lot more in my adult life than I have dissected a frog. Go up to any school in the county and you will see the gym, theater, track, stadium, baseball, softball field and classrooms being used at all hours by people in the community. That in my opinion, is my tax dollars being well spent!
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