Sweeney conducted the meeting to get feedback about projects in the fourth SPLOST notebook. According to the district, the 1 percent sales tax could bring in $717.8 million between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2018. Walton is slated to receive $13.9 million of that to build a main gymnasium and choral and orchestra rooms, compared to $19.3 million for Pope and $19.5 million for Harrison. Both of those schools would get a theater and gym.
Sweeney talked about SPLOST for nearly two hours, explaining what it is, how funds are collected, how the notebook was created and the biggest projects in it, including two career academies, a new Osborne High School and three elementary schools.
Sweeney said the current notebook, which can be found on the district’s website, is just a draft.
“It’s critically important that people like yourselves — obviously you’re interested — take a look at what’s going on here and make your opinions known,” he said, adding that he’s checking with district personnel about how residents can voice their opinions.
The comments from the audience that drew the most applause were those arguing for more funds for Walton.
“If you travel this school system and you go to the north and the south and the west … we aren’t looking as good as they are,” one parent said. “They have many things that we don’t have for a school that brings great prestige to this county, for a school that has accolades for just about anything that they do. We shouldn’t go to other schools in the county and say, ‘Oh wow, Walton looks like a pit compared to this school.’ … It’s not right that your highest scoring and most-capable high school is not on the top of your list.”
Another parent said Walton families would not vote for a SPLOST “where we keep passing funding over to other folks when this school contributes so much to this neighborhood.”
Other audience members echoed his comment.
“That’s a message that you as our advocate, our post member, need to take back to the board,” another attendee said. “People are not going to go back and vote again and again, just to be abused.”
Sweeney said the comments were “spot on.”
“I’ve made those specific concerns to (Superintendent) Dr. Michael Hinojosa and to (Deputy Superintendent of Operations) Chris Ragsdale, and I will continue to make those things known, and I encourage you to do the same thing,” he said.
Another attendee, who said she teaches in the east Cobb area, said Walton families have born the cost of improvements at the school.
“We did a lot of fundraising,” she said. “The parents can’t do it anymore. Walton now has parents and families that can’t even afford to put food on their table, so now it’s time for the county to step up and cover what the parents have been covering for years.”
One parent asked what is considered when determining how much each school is allocated from the collections and wanted to know why Pope and Harrison high schools were getting more than Walton.
Sweeney said he could not answer that question because he just received the notebook last week but that he would talk to the district staff about how the allocations are determined.
“It’s about delivering the best to as many schools as possible,” he said.
The board is expected to vote on the notebook of projects in November or December, and residents will vote on the sale tax in March 2013.
The most recent SPLOST, which was approved in September 2008, will run through Dec. 31, 2013. If voters approve SPLOST IV, it would begin Jan. 1, 2014, and run through Dec. 31, 2018.
The last 30 minutes of the meeting was spent on Sweeney’s brief discussion about the calendar.
A 21-member committee recently finished up three meetings in August and made four separate recommendations to Hinojosa.
Sweeney, who said he does not favor an Aug. 1 start date, said utility costs, enrollment, attendance and test scores are not affected by when students are in school.
Hinojosa’s recommendation to the board for a vote on the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school year calendars should come sometime in October.