Around Town: The E-SPLOST — March vote will play out against backdrop of huge deficit
by Bill Kinney and Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
January 19, 2013 02:07 AM | 5132 views | 15 15 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THIS YEAR’S Education-SPLOST battle will play out against Wednesday’s news that the Cobb School District is expecting a staggering $79 million budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2014, based on revenues of $807.6 million and expenditures of $887.1 million.

The SPLOST IV referendum is scheduled March 19. The one-percent school-funding measure will be the only item on the ballot that day and is projected to collect around $718 million for Cobb and $54 million for Marietta between 2014 and 2018.

SPLOSTs and bond referendums are nearly always controversial in Cobb. The 2011 county road SPLOST passed by a microscopic 79-vote margin out of 43,000 votes cast, for example. And angry voters blew last summer’s Transportation-SPLOST proposal out of the water by a 69-31 percent margin.

SO DOES the looming budget deficit mean some combination of more layoffs, bigger class sizes and more furlough days, as the system has experienced in the past several budget years? It’s too early to say for sure, but keep in mind that the system spends 90 percent of its budget on personnel costs, and that 70 percent of that budget represents instructional employees. In other words, there are not many other places to cut.

As for other revenue sources, the system is already just under the state-mandated 20-mill max for property-tax levies. The state also mandates that school systems must operate under a balanced budget.

School and other elected officials have always expected that there would be lean budgetary years from time to time, but it has been decades since they have had to contend with year after year after year of budget hits, thanks to an economy that refuses to come out of its prolonged slump.

And not only has the local tax digest been hard hit in recent years, the Cobb system (and its counterparts in Marietta and around the state) have also had to survive deep cuts in the funding they receive from the state. Cobb, for example, has had to swallow $353 million in austerity cuts since 2003 (and Marietta Schools $27 million). There’s little expectation that this year’s Legislature will be any more forthcoming.

THE COBB SYSTEM dipped into its reserve fund to the tune of $28 million to help balance the FY13 budget, so don’t be surprised to see the school board and new Chairman Randy Scamihorn turn to that source to help this time around as well. Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa says not to expect staff suggestions on how to close the gap until late March — or in other words, after the SPLOST referendum. The board has until June 30 to pass the budget.

If there’s a speck of sunlight in the situation, it’s the fact that the district is debt-free, thanks to its prior SPLOSTs.

MEANWHILE, longtime SPLOST foe Lance Lamberton of Austell is gearing up for another such fight. The Cobb Taxpayers Association, of which he is president, plans to meet at noon Jan. 26 at the House of Lu, 89 Cherokee St. in Marietta (directly behind the Strand Theatre) to plot strategy.

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AN ATLANTA SOURCE who has seen private polling done on behalf of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who’s on shaky ground with many conservatives — most recently for going along with President Obama on his “fiscal cliff” vote — describes the polls numbers as “abysmal” for Chambliss.

The senator must face voters next year and, as things stand at present, is expected to draw strong Republican opposition. U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell) is already known to be considering such a run. Another possible Chambliss foe might be former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, who lost a runoff for the GOP gubernatorial nomination to Nathan Deal in 2010.

YET THE MOST potentially arduous rival Chambliss might face next year is one who has never held elective office: Herman Cain. The former presidential candidate ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2004, coming in third in the GOP primary that year behind eventual winner Johnny Isakson and Mac Collins for the right to succeed the retiring Zell Miller.

Yes, Cain on Monday will take over one of the most coveted radio slots in the country, that filled by longtime “Talkmaster” Neal Boortz on WSB-Atlanta. But not only might trying to fill the shoes of such a legendary broadcaster prove hard to do; it’s also true that if Cain still has “political fever,” the time to run is when voters’ memories of him are still fresh

STATE Sen.-elect Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) was selected as one of four deputy Senate whips for the new legislative session that started Monday by Majority Whip Cecil Staton (R-Macon). Deputy whips help handle the daily administrative duties within the caucus.

And on the House side, state Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) was named by Majority Whip Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) as one of 13 deputy House whips.

IMMIGRATION activist D.A. King has scheduled a pair of rallies on Marietta Square Tuesday and Feb. 26 to coincide with the Cobb Commission’s upcoming vote on whether to require contractors and subcontractors who do business with the county to swear that they have filed an application to become certified under the federal IMAGE program.

That program ensures that workers hired are in the country legally — but is quietly opposed by some in the local business community. East Cobb Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell are expected to vote for it. Chairman Tim Lee and new Commissioner Lisa Cupid have not disclosed how they will vote, but Lee, who has close ties to the Cobb Chamber, is less than enthusiastic about it. Northwest Commissioner Helen Goreham, believed to be the swing vote on the question, sounded pro-IMAGE last week. Is she still?

Both rallies will run from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on the corner nearest the Cobb Government Building on Cherokee Street.

The commission will be holding public hearings on the proposed change both evenings, and will vote on the measure Feb. 26.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Should the Cobb commission take an easy step to ensure that the companies it does business with are not hiring those in this country illegally?

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ATTENDEES can expect some lively stories — most of them true — about lawyers and judges when six Cobb lawyers — each boasting at least 60 years of membership in the State Bar of Georgia — are honored Thursday at a noon luncheon at Willie Rae’s restaurant on Marietta Square by the Solo/Small Firm section of The Cobb Bar Association.

Being feted are former Georgia Supreme Court Justice G. Conley Ingram, Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Watson White and attorneys Fred Bentley Sr., Ray Gary Sr., Raymond Reed and Talmadge Woodman.

Meal cost (except for the honorees) is $14 per person. RSVP to Chandler Bridges at cblawyer@ bellsouth.net.

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THE COBB LANDMARKS & HISTORICAL SOCIETY plans its annual meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Whitlock Inn, 57 Whitlock Ave., and the Anderson House (65 Whitlock Ave.) next door. The business meeting, presentation of awards and election of new officers to succeed Chairwoman Rose Wing for 2013 will take place at the first location, followed by a reception at the CLHS headquarters next door, reports director Nancy Gadberry.

A HANDFUL OF TICKETS remain for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s 71st annual dinner next Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Cobb Galleria Centre. Entertainment will be by Marietta band “PRIME.” For more go to www.cobbchamber.org/annualdinner. ...

Speaking of the Chamber, WellStar President and CEO Reynold Jennings will be guest speaker at February’s First Monday Breakfast on Feb. 4 at the same location.

PERFORMANCES CONTINUE tonight and tomorrow at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre on Marietta Square of the play “Steel Magnolias” featuring a home-grown cast of Cobb Countians. The ensemble case features Marietta “magnolias” Cassandra Buckalew, Holly Comer, Cassi Costoulas, Faye DiMassimo, Kim Gresh and Dianne Weeks, according to director Earl Reece.

Tickets can be purchased at the Strand box office or online at www.earlsmithstrand.org.

SCREEN ALERT: The Ceremonial Courtroom at the new Cobb Superior Court Building was used to film a scene for a show in the TV series “The Following,””— starring Kevin Bacon — which premieres at 9 Monday on the Fox Network.

And yes, ladies, Bacon was there for the filming.

Comments
(15)
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netdragon
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February 05, 2013
Stop wasting our money with multi-million dollar conferences for board members.
VFP42
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January 22, 2013
How long have we had the school sales tax euphemised as E-SPLOST? However long it's been, are the schools any better with all this "extra" tax money? No, no sir they are not. We are still an educational basement dweller nationally, so what has E-SPLOST really bought us?

E-SPLOST has supplanted countless millions of non-SPLOST tax dollars that did pay fore education. Where did those dollars all go since they were replaced with E-SPLOST?

E-SPLOST dollars (supposedly) HAVE to go to education, but a dollar of property tax in the education budget that gets replaced by an E-SPLOST dollar can go into such things as a fishing hole in Bonaire.

If you want tax money to waste on fishing holes, continue to vote for E-SPLOST.

If on the other hand you want the whole state budget to be accountable, vote AGAINST E-Splost so we look at our fishing hole dollars side by side with education dollars.

SPLOST is a trick to free up funds. The trick is that existed funding sources are LOST when they're replaced with SP-LOST dollars.

Don't give them more and more of our money! Tell them ice holes at the state capitol to go fish!
Local Joe
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January 22, 2013
"A fishing hole in Bonair"?

What in the world does that have to do with the Cobb County School board and SPLOST? Do you have any idea what you are talking about? No, I didn't think so.

As the article mentions, the state has cut $353 million in funding that the Cobb school system was entitled to receive under the state funding formula. Employees of the school district haven't had a raise in six years, but did see their pay cut by two percent four years ago. In the meantime, health insurance costs have gone through the roof, and went up again this month.

You should probably think twice before putting out dumb comments about sending money to Bonair.
Be Careful
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January 21, 2013
I will NOT vote for a SPLOST until the school board demonstrates some common sense and gets wild project spending under control.

Yes, it is a sad situation, and I feel for students and parents.

However, the answer is not ALWAYS throw more money at the problem.

They have to start managing like professionals
@Be Careful
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January 21, 2013
Be Careful of the aspersions you cast:



From the most recent independent SPLOST Audit...

...there were no findings and we conclude that the CCSD SPLOST III proceeds were disbursed in compliance with the SPLOST III Resolution.

...there were no material findings and we conclude that the CCSD SPLOST III program is following sound procurement procedures and are being disbursed in a fiscally responsible manner.

...we conclude that the CCSD SPLOST III administrative controls have been established to ensure the proper management of the sales tax proceeds received by the District.

...Based on a cost comparison report by RS Means Company that was provided to us by the State Department of Education and the 2012 Annual School Construction Report by the School Planning and Management magazine which reviews construction costs for the year 2011, it appears that the CCSD new school construction cost per square foot is comparable to or lower than the average cost per square foot for local, statewide, and regional school districts for the year ending December 31, 2011.

...we conclude that the SPLOST III technological expenditures made in 2011 are reasonable considering the potentially volatile market environment for these products.

...we conclude that the SPLOST III sales tax proceeds are being invested in a sound fiscal manner.

sammiebef
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January 22, 2013
Ditto to the above comment!!!! AMEN... and let's hope voters are tired of the deceit as well. Andy makes some valid points, however SPLOST has been mismanaged before and will continue to be. Vote NO for the E-Splost. The spending HAS to stop and we have to deal with using the resources we have wisely.
I will vote against
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January 20, 2013
Splost and anything else this board favors until they return the balanced calendar..I don't care what anyone else thinks or posts here, that is what I definitely will do and will ask everyone to do.
I agree
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January 24, 2013
Wholeheartedly
overflowing cup
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January 19, 2013
What a great bunch to run against Sen. Chambliss! I think Price would be a shoo-in, but also hope that Herman Cain gets into the political picture. Both of these men would be a great boost for the Republican Party and for Georgia.
anonymous
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January 19, 2013
so......has anyone actually thought about the stuff that has to be done in schools that is funded by splost - where do you think the money will come from without splost? I do not want my kids to have to go to a horrible school everyday as well as fewer teachers with more kids. that is not why I moved to cobb...
Andy.
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January 19, 2013
Regarding the E-SPLOST vote. Although it may be distasteful, at best, to vote for a renewal of the school ESPLOST, the alternatives are even more difficult to swallow.

It is a fact that one of the major components which expanding or relocating companies considers when moving into a community involves the quality of local education. Logically, a industry would have a difficult time convincing workers (who will bring their children with them) to relocate to a school system that views public education as second or third tier priority.

It is also intellectually shallow to believe that Cobb's property values will NOT decrease if we allow the school system to pack even greater numbers into bursting classrooms. The increase in size will eventually lead to an overall decrease of standardized test scores. This in turn will decrease property values. A quick review of Clayton County will confirm this reality.

Yes, it is most likely true that the transfer of building maintenance and operational cost have been de facto transferred to the ESPLOST budget during these tough economic times. However this was budgeting tool which has allowed the school system keep your children's classroom sizes lower.

Those considering rejecting the upcoming EPLOST, at the ballot box, should consider the realistic options left on the table if the naysayers defeat the school SPLOST.

The school system will be left few options. They include:

1. Issue a bond - which will increase property taxes.

2. Increase the millage increase, with no buy down possible.

3. Allow class sizes to increase even more. (Realistically it becomes a struggle to maintain order rather than conducting any meaningful instruction)

4. Reduce the reserves down to a minimal amount. This not only puts the school at great risk from a fiscal point of view but would decrease the credit rating of the school system. The reserves reduction would also have the net result of school system being forced to seej bridge loans from a bank the following year, in order to meet it's obligations (rather than borrow from the reserves with no cost associated).

5. Decreasing the salary for a workforce that has historically been at the bottom.

In the end, homeowners will ultimately decide if they wish to see a decrease in their property values or if they wish to bite the proverbial bullet.

Chose wisely. Elections have consequences.
Just Sayin'....
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January 19, 2013
Andy - While I agree with the points you clearly expressed, technically and legally, SPLOST funds cannot be used for any of those items. The guidelines are strictly for capital expenditures, not to be used to support the general fund. IF SPLOST could be used for the general fund, and not to build more buidings that we cannot afford to keep up, I think most would vote for it. The reality is though, that money would be obligated to be used for MORE buiding projects and not to support the classroom. At the end of the day, a regular tax is all that will cover it, unless we cut more spending.

According to the budget director, 20% of the budget supports non classroom personnel. That is over 160 million dollars. A payroll reduction in this area would be a start. A district-wide hiring freeze would be another thing to consider. Consolidating schools would be another. Eliminating assistant principals would be another. 3 or 4 PE teachers per elementary school could be cut down to 1 or 2. While the art and music programs are very valuable, these would be ripe for corporate sponsorships....same with sports programs. Stop buying unused vacation time. BUT, at the end of the day, we may have to raise taxes.
Craig Kootsillas
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January 20, 2013
This conclusion is based on the assumption that all bills being paid (salary, maintenance, capital improvements) finance an environment that is efficient - that all money is being spent wisely.

That's not a conclusion that is shared by everyone.

The process has been a hoax, with the Crooks "declare SPLOST funds excess, then dump them into general revenue" trick being commonly used.

And there's a fundamental point to be made.

The SPLOST law is very clear. SPLOST funds are not be be used for maintenance.

Many have a real problem enabling illegal activities.

Fix the law, reform the administrative financial burden, then ask for more money.
@Just Sayin'
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January 21, 2013
Whether you want to believe it, or not, SPLOST does have an impact on the general fund. Absent SPLOST or bond financing, the district still has capital expenditure requirements. If you don't support SPLOST or bond financing, then capital expenditures must come from the general fund.

Your suggestion that "a regular tax is all that will cover it" is flat wrong.

For example, Georgia caps school millage at 20 mills. Cobb is at 18.9 mills. 1 mill is roughly $20 million.

The district has projected an $80 million shortfall excluding any capital improvements.

If you applied 100% of a millage increase (i.e. $20 million) to capital expenditures, you'd have about $170,000 per facility in Cobb County annually. If you applied all of it to operations, you'd still be shy $60 million. With either choice, you'd still have larger classroom sizes, furlough days and reductions in positions.

At $20 million annually, it would take 100 years to address the CURRENT $2 billion in needs based projects identified by the district.
Andy.
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January 21, 2013
Craig: While I appreciate your point of view, are you aware that Cobb is one of the few school districts in the state which does not have an outstanding bond issued? Does this not demonstrate a degree of proven leadership?

Surely we can agree that to win the battle but to lose the war is not a well construed victory plan. I would hope that those who are only voting against the SPLOST to record a voice of protest would consider the ramifications to all of the property owners of Cobb County. In addition, to decreased property values, eventually the deterioration of our school system will negatively impact on our homegrown workforce.
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