Despite few inquiries, close vote expected for latest Ed-SPLOST
by Lindsay Field
March 10, 2013 12:51 AM | 3016 views | 19 19 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Several groups are campaigning for and against SPLOST IV, but so far very few residents have called on Cobb and Marietta schools officials with questions or concerns.

“It’s actually been very quiet and, normally, quiet in my history has been good,” said Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

Hinojosa’s deputy superintendent of operations, Chris Ragsdale, said it could be attributed to how well the district has kept the public informed of the process for the special purpose local option sales tax.

“We had the notebook in every draft form posted on the website, so those who normally would have questions about the notebook have had access to it from day one,” Ragsdale said.

Cobb’s $717.8 million list includes a $39.9 million rebuild at Walton High School, two replacement elementary schools for $23.3 million each, a $29.8 million career academy, $29.9 million Osborne High School rebuild and an east Cobb area middle school replacement for a ticket price of $29.1 million.

One person who has heard a lot from the community, though, is east Cobb school board member Scott Sweeney.

He’s participated in many meetings with residents, both who favor and oppose the initiative.

While he seems to get quite a bit of support from members of his community, there has been a lot of opposition, specifically with the lack of details about the location of the recommended career academy and replacement elementary schools.

As for the career academy, Sweeney said the district could take several routes as to how it could be built.

Sweeney said they could construct a pocket academy where high schools operate a career academy; a stand-alone academy, which is a centrally located facility; or a satellite academy, which is located at a few or more host sites.

“Feedback from many sources, including, but not limited to, school administration, community members, institutions of higher learning and the board of education, will be taken into account prior to selecting any of the above options,” he said.

As for the elementary schools, Sweeney said there are several candidates for this project, and it won’t go out to bid for at least another two to four years.

“Enrollment shifts may occur in that time, and additional needs may become apparent,” he said. “It is more prudent for the district to wait until the time for these projects arrives, and then work with the community to identify the two elementary schools in greatest need of replacement.”

Marietta Superintendent Emily Lembeck has been hosting similar informational meetings about that district’s $55.4 million project list but hasn’t had as great of a turnout.

“I think that (Marietta City voters) understand what SPLOST IV can do and what the project list is,” Lembeck said about the lack of response from city voters about the initiative.

Marietta’s list includes paying off $15.2 million in debt, $16 million in technology upgrades, $20 million toward construction, modifications, renovations and equipment and $2 million for transportation.

Close vote anticipated

Tom Cheater, the school board’s vice chair, said what he has heard from Marietta City voters has been favorable to SPLOST IV passing.

“They view it as a continuation of an existing tax, and one they feel has demonstrated value to the city and the county over the past five years,” he said.

He also said that while previous SPLOSTs have passed by wide margins, he anticipate the results on March 19 will be close.

“It’s important that everyone gets their voice heard when it comes to SPLOST IV,” Cheater said. “There is a lot of information available and voters should evaluate it carefully – on both sides.”

If the referendum is approved, Marietta City School Board Chair Randy Weiner said it would be the first time in quite a while that their district has been debt free.

And if it doesn’t pass?

“We still must pay off our old debt, and debt right now for the next five years would be $3 million each year,” Lembeck said. “Likewise, technology is a given and an expectation by students, families and educators and right now just to refurbish … that would be about $2.4 million a year.”

Hinojosa echoes that same concern. He said finding replacements for SPLOST funding would add some “significant challenges” to the county district’s operational budget.

“We already have a challenging budget facing an $80 million deficit, so that would add to that,” he said. “I don’t want to play the scare tactics, but it would create some additional challenges and we’d have to come up with some creative ways to deliver quality education.”

Trying to get their voices heard

And while board members and superintendents say they aren’t hearing much from the community, that doesn’t mean that community organizations and individuals aren’t voicing their opinions on the referendum any way they can.

Members of both the Georgia Tea Party and Cobb County Taxpayers Association have been very outspoken against the referendum.

“This is the first time I’ve ever directly opposed an e-SPLOST,” said Tom Maloy with the Georgia Tea Party.

He has been a Cobb resident for more than 40 years.

“SPLOSTs are supposed to be temporary, and they are getting a real feel of permanence,” Maloy said.

His organization argues that the project list is too vague, with few details on locations of big construction items like the career academy or the replacement elementary schools and that many projects are “as needed.”

Rallying on the Square

On Sunday afternoon, they will be joining forces with the Cobb Taxpayers Association to host a “Rock the E-SPLOST” rally on the Marietta Square to speak out about their opposition.

“One of the things that bothers me is that they’ve had a SPLOST in place for 15 consecutive years and they still talk about infrastructure needs that have not been met, like roofs leaking and inadequate HVAC, toilets that need to be repaired and clearly things that need to be taken care of but why weren’t they fixed in the past?” asked Lance Lamberton with the association.

They have invited former Cobb Commission Chair Bill Byrne and former Cobb School Facilities and Technology Committee chair Kimberley Euston to speak, and live music will be performed by Mark Augustyn of Atlanta.

On the flip side, there are several groups who support the initiative, including the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, United 4 Kids, FACE It Cobb and the District 9 PTSA.

Hinojosa said support from these entities shows that “we have something special here in Cobb County.”

“A lot of people realize that the Cobb County School District is the engine that drives a lot of people to Cobb County,” he said. “They have a vested interest in its success and they have stepped up and they understand it’s a bigger picture.”

John Loud of Loud Alarm Systems is co-sponsoring United 4 Kids with Jay Cunningham of Superior Plumbing.

He said there’s been far more support for the referendum than he anticipated.

They have used donations for the nonprofit to send out pamphlets, create television commercials, send mailers, run ads in local newspapers and buy yard signs.

“We should be proud to be in a county that in our notebook we want something like this,” Loud said about the career academy. “Those are the right solutions for many … we are looking to get developed skilled labor, kids are lost trying to figure out what they are doing and maybe this is a way they can get the training.”

JoEllen Smith, who is a member of the grassroots organization FACE It Cobb, said she’s in favor of SPLOST IV because it has support from those who would be affected by its passage the most – parents, students and teachers.

“They are supportive and enthusiastic about it passing,” she said. “I know the list may not be perfect, but perfect is the enemy of good. It’s never going to be perfect and, in the meantime, the roofs are still caving in and there’s mold on the walls.”
Comments
(19)
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Malloy Busted
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March 11, 2013
Tom Malloy admitted in yesterday's MDJ, that if SPLOST does not pass, bonds will have to be issued. That means INCREASING PROPERTY TAXES to pay that debt.

So "Ax the Tax" crowd just sucker punched themselves.

You are voting down $231,900,000.00 that would be raised by visitors and commuters to Cobb? So that you can tell yourself you reduced taxes BUT you're not.

Ever heard the term 1 step forward 2 steps back.

Please vote YES.

Don't look now but 116,147 kids will also benefit!

Arabella Occassi
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March 11, 2013
I guess when Mr. Lamberton's roof, toilet and HVAC were fixed 15 years ago they never needed fixing again. Is this representative of the mental capacity of those opposed to making the facilities of our children the best they can be? I wonder if he was also one of those complaining about all of the portables the school district used to have. Don't hear much about them anymore thanks to SPLOST. Vote YES!
go away JOellen
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March 11, 2013
What makes Joellen an expert on splost? Please MDJ choose your interviews carefully. I can honestly say this woman is nuts.
Offering Help
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March 11, 2013
I agree with the SPLOST IV, but The Marietta City School system needs to look at whether they are spending too much on their own bureaucracy, including the superintendent’s highly compensated cabinet. MCS has numerous ways they could bring down costs and be more efficient. Additionally, we should review the MCS practice of double dipping; current administrators and central office personnel earning salaries and pensions simultaneously. Do we really need these positions for such a small school system with only 8400 students?
Know your facts
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March 10, 2013
Cobb Chamber of Commerce = those that vie for SPLOST contracts; of course they want it to pass.

United 4 Kids = is backed by the Chamber of Commerce.

FACE It Cobb = started by Scott Sweeney and David Banks in conjunction with the school district, (the East Cobb middle school council clusters)

District 9 PTSA = is loaded up with Walton/East Cobb people who want a new Walton; once they got their "goodies," they were on board. Karen Hallacy who is a taxpayer paid Cobb County School District lobbyist, is heading this one up.

Know your facts before you vote.

AmericanMale
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March 10, 2013
I'm just curious: If Ed-SPLOST is voted down and a bond referendum is needed, are seniors exempt from that too?

I just passed the Square and saw a bunch of embittered-looking old folks holding up "Ax the Tax" signs. Seems to me they might be shooting themselves in the foot!
JR in Mableton
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March 10, 2013
It is interesting to me to see the Tea Party change its tune. During the T-SPLOST debate, they were holding up Education SPLOST programs as the examples of good programs - needs based projects, stakeholder involvement, good investment.

Now they don't like this Ed-SPLOST because SPLOSTs are supposed to be "temporary" and because the list is "vague." Surely, the Tea Party can do better than these weak arguments.

Consider what happens with a NO vote. The schools still have $2B in maintenance needs WITH NO WAY TO PAY FOR IT. Oh wait! There are two ways - raise the millage rate on property tax AND/OR debt.

Is it safe to say that the Tea Party supports raising property taxes and strapping future Cobb citizens with debt.

The irony of all ironies is that the same people who are opposing the Ed-SPLOST were the ones responsible for exempting the senior citizens from paying property taxes in Cobb.

My question to the Tea Party.......WHO PAYS? Who pays to repair the school buildings? Who pays for the lost business in Cobb? Who pays for the lower property values? WHO PAYS?

mk-truthbtold
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March 10, 2013
If Cobb can keep ramming through this wasteful SPLOST TAX, forever,.. it can boast & pretend that Cobb County is the lowest taxed county in metro, but it really isn't. Not when you add up all the SPLOST's and other defacto tax revenue streams.

Cobb is the poorest (sans east cobb), rundown & backwards in the metro!!

Just a bunch of propaganda!

Vote NO!

Lower Hinojosas ridiculous salary,.. almost $300,000 per year. For what?? Lunching w/ the Chamber & Lee?

@mk-thruthbtold
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March 11, 2013
Take a look at DeKalb Schools if you want a view to what your plans will get us.

Do you understand the the complexities of running an organization of 14,000 employees educating over 100,000 students 5 days a week?
Tom Maloy clueless
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March 10, 2013
Yes Mr. Maloy, these SPLOSTS are becoming permanent because it is the only way for the school district to stay debt free, keep property taxes low and continue to have the success in CCSD. Without SPLOST the district would have to borrow money to accomplish all of these projects. Without SPLOST you would still have those 800 trailers they removed and overcrowded schools. WIthout SPLOST we would be in deep debt. Part of the reason is that the Cobb legislation refuses to remove the senior tax which equates to 75 million lost tax dollars. Teachers and students are already suffering, so I don't believe raising millions through a SPLOST which only costs you 1% on the dollar is too much. Is it Mr. Maloy? It equates to $ 1.00 per every $ 100 dollars. Is that too much for you to help the children? Maybe Mr. Maloy needs to read about all the great things SPLOST has done for our community!
anonymous
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March 10, 2013
I will gladly pay 1% more for schools when you pay 1% more for Medicare. Is that too much for you to help the elderly?
VFP42
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March 11, 2013
You make an excellent point: CCSD has a BIG spending problem! It's past time to shred their credit card.

Where are the 800 trailers now? Let me guess.. We are paying to store them somewhere, unused. Let me also guess that the permanent buildings that replaced the trailers are now sitting half empty due to the housing collapse.

Is $1 per $100 too much to "do it for the children?" Who knows, but then you can use that argument for $5 or $50 or $100 per $100 too since Cobb's children are all adorably doe eyed.

How about instead we look at the present NEEDS of CCSD rather than the list of WANTS the CCSD provided?

Did the Falcons NEED a new stadium or did they WANT one? Well they got their want from City of Atlanta and Fulton.

Is this what we have become? We in Cobb County willingly tax ourselves during the bigget recession anyone can remember just because a few people WANT something?
Kennesaw Resident
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March 11, 2013
@ anonymous:

Actually, one percent more for Medicare is too much. The elderly already receive three dollaars in beneits for every one dollar paid into Medicare. That is simply unstainable. Not only do Seniors need to pay school tax, we need to end first dollar coverage for Medicare and raise premiums. Seniors are receiving a disproportionate share of benefits in this country - a problem that seriously needs to be addressed.
Pay Up Seniors
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March 11, 2013
@ anonymous, keep in mind that retirement is a Twentieth Century invention. Seniors have had a lifetime to prepare to help themselves. Many of them retire too early.
ted w
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March 10, 2013
It is amazing to me people who have limited income must learn to do without. Why does this not apply in this case?
anonymous
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March 10, 2013
The school district has already had to learn to "do without" as a result of austerity cuts from the state and the state equalization scheme that takes money from Cobb and sends it to counties like Gwinnett. Losing SPLOST would just be another blow to the District on top of many others. The citizens of Cobb will have to decide how important education is to our children and our property values. In addition to passing SPLOST, citizens should be contacting state legislators to demand the full restoration of state funding.
Common Sense
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March 10, 2013
Just remember when the sequester cuts were supposed to bring doom and gloom on the US economy. Remember if TARP wasn't implemented, the economy would implode. Look what those so called "investments" cost the taxpayers? People have been saying for years..."if we don't pass this SPLOST or that SPLOST," then the kids are going to be affected and education is going to shut down. Hogwash citizens. After the dust settles, all we have is another additional tax along with the many other taxes we pay on everything. What federal and local governments never learn is how to BUDGET without raising costs every year, and every time we bail them out by voting for the SPLOST. Education has a ton of money...they need to learn how to stop wasting it. Just remember though, all the liberals will scream "Don't you care about our kids?" And you should respond, "Don't you care enough about our kids to not saddle them with so much debt?" Death by one thousand tax cuts keeps the money out of your pocket and into the coffers of innefficient government and yes, public education. They always say this is the last SPLOST...if you remember, there was only supposed to be ONE SPLOST. Now the citizens are voting on the fourth splost. It is all about getting more money without being financially accountable to what they spend because there is always one more thing that is wanted, but not needed in education. Education will be fine without another SPLOST...better known as a tax increase.
Uncommon Sense
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March 10, 2013
So your plan is NO and everything will be fine because you say so. Sorry, I do not trust you.

Real simple math here. If SPLOST does not pass, the needs do NOT go away and there are only 2 ways to pay for those needs.

1) Out of the operating budget that pays for our teachers, so less teachers.

2) Bonds which raise property taxes. Property taxes that impact homeowners and just as importantly business owners which would then drive up cost of goods sold, rental costs and put a choke on wages.

Education has a ton of money? We are talking about 116,147 students! That ton of money gets spread thin very very quickly on a scale that large.
anonymous
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March 10, 2013
Apparently, common sense is not so common anymore. It is absolutely astounding how people want to spew out opinion as if it were fact without ever having checked facts first. I AM a conservative and apparently unlike you can determine the most efficient means to an end. Continuing, not increasing, a funding mechanism versus raising my property tax through millage, raising my property tax through bonds, and/or lowering my property value from all of the above combined with diminishing schools.
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