Officials and consultants to Cobb’s district are eyeing a public referendum next March 19. Janine Eveler, director of Cobb Elections, said that would be the only question on the ballot for that day.
“I’m not sure if being the lone item on the ballot will present an advantage either way, but it should mean that those who turn out to vote are well-informed about the issue, and I think that’s a good thing,” Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said.
Voters countywide will likely be asked to extend the 1 percent sales tax for five more years, beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Former superintendent James Wilson, whose firm is drafting a project list for Cobb Schools, estimates the tax would bring in $717 million over the five years for Cobb Schools.
Staff at Marietta City Schools are drafting that district’s project list, which they plan to present to the board during a retreat on Sept. 7, but Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck said eliminating the district’s $15.6 million in long-term debt and the Marietta High auditorium debt would be at the top of the list.
Hinojosa acknowledged there is a risk of “SPLOST fatigue” among voters, given that a March vote would come just eight months after the regional TSPLOST vote, which went down in flames.
But, “the Education SPLOST has an established track record that is familiar to most Cobb County parents and taxpayers, and the projects it has funded are visible at 120 school district facilities around the county,” he said. “By March, voters should be very clear on what the education SPLOST is all about and the types of capital projects it supports.”
Hinojosa said his board would vote in November or December to call for a public referendum in March.
Districts now may only hold SPLOST referendums on regularly-scheduled election days, of which there are two in 2013: in March or November. A November 2013 referendum, though, would cause a gap in collections.
County voters last approved a SPLOST for Cobb’s two districts in a special election in September 2008, where it passed by 61 percent of the vote. Turnout was only about 10 percent. It was originally projected to bring in about $857 million over the five years but was later lowered to $659 million.
Wilson, whose Education Planners Inc. firm was paid $75,000 to create Cobb’s proposed SPLOST IV project list, presented a draft project list to the school board on Aug. 8.
Cobb’s projects include building two career academies at a cost of $33 million each, one in south Cobb and the other in north; building a new, $29 million Osborne High School to replace the existing school; and consolidating or rebuilding eight 1950s-era elementary schools: Belmont Hills, Eastvalley, Harmony Leland, LaBelle, Milford, Powers Ferry, Sedalia Park and Brumby.
Cobb also wants to replace theaters, gymnasiums, or both, at five high schools; and replace “temporary” buildings at six more schools.
The theater and gym rebuilds would be at Harrison and Wheeler high schools; theater replacements at North Cobb, Pope and South Cobb high schools, and replacement gyms at Lassiter, Walton and Campbell high schools.
The schools where temporary buildings would be considered are at Compton, Mount Bethel, Tritt and Sope Creek elementary schools and Tapp and Daniell middle schools.
Cobb Schools officials are now working on getting feedback from principals who have been asked to talk to their Parent-Teacher-Student Associations and school communities about needs for their schools.
At the school board’s Oct. 10 work session, they should be getting that feedback from the individual school communities.
In Marietta City, Superintendent Lembeck said her district’s number one priority will be to eliminate all debt, which includes paying off the Marietta High $7 million bond for the auditorium, if a fourth SPLOST is approved.
“There will be a number of items that impact our schools positively and of course technology will be considered,” she said. “(SPLOST has) become a tool and an expectation in education.”
Marietta’s Board Chairwoman Jill Mutimer said that with so much of her school district’s budget going toward personnel expenses and the attrition cuts from the federal and state governments, SPLOST is an “alternative source” for funding for capital needs.
“I prefer the SPLOST … rather than bonds, which is only paid for by property owners,” she said. “We’re going to be taking a really hard look at our needs … but my first priority is using the SPLOST to eliminate debt, including the auditorium bond.”
The board retreat to discuss the project list will be held in the boardroom at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 and is open to the public.