Officials pitch new LEST tax to fund schools
by Hannah Morgan
October 08, 2013 12:21 AM | 3119 views | 12 12 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — School board member David Banks and two members of the school district’s SPLOST watchdog committee are calling for a constitutional amendment that would allow the district to implement yet another 1 cent sales tax to fund education in Cobb County.

The proposal, supported by Banks, was spearheaded by John Crooks and Don Hill, both members of the school board’s Cobb County Facilities and Technology Committee. Crooks, a former school board member, is a minister at Roswell Street Baptist Church while Hill is a former Cobb GOP chairman.

Called a Local Education Sales Tax, or LEST, the tax would support a financially unstable school district, Crooks told the MDJ on Monday.

As president of the Cobb Schools Foundation, Crooks said he had been receiving requests from teachers for funding to increase teacher training days, and that motivated him to help propose this legislation.

“As a Republican, I don’t get all tingly over taxes, but for me, this is a choice for a poor area to improve the quality of education, and that means improving the quality of life,” Crooks said. “And if people choose a sales tax to help improve their quality of life then so be it.”

This tax would be in addition to Cobb County’s current 1-cent Ed-SPLOST tax, which funds capital improvement projects such as building new schools.

A draft of the legislation is still being revised, and at this point, it is unclear whether or not the 1-cent sales tax would be levied on food, gas, prescription drugs or other necessities. Nonetheless, such a tax would raise the overall sales tax in Cobb County to 7 percent, Crooks said.

In its current state, the proposed bill would amend the state Constitution to allow each county in Georgia to have the option to vote on a 10-year county-wide 1-cent tax that would bolster the school district’s general fund.

The general fund supports school expenditures such as teacher salaries, transportation, computer resources, athletics and special school programs like magnet and IB schools.

LEST would add to these funds, and give the school boards in the counties the power to decide how to spend the revenue, which could raise teacher salaries, reduce class sizes or amplify school programs, Crooks said.

Plan would initially roll back property tax

Unlike SPLOST, no restrictions are placed on the allocation of LEST funds for either operating or capital expenditures, according to the proposal.

In the proposed legislation, counties with populations over 50,000 are guaranteed at least 30 percent of the collected LEST funds would be used to roll back property tax rates, Crooks said.

Whether property taxes could eventually creep back up remains uncertain at this point.

While many agree that Cobb County could use more funding for schools, Tracey-Ann Nelson, the director of government relations at Georgia Association of Educators, is unsure how the tax would impact the state’s support of education.

“My only worry about this is, does this mean that state legislators are off the hook for fully funding education?” she asked.

Nelson said the GAE was evaluating and reviewing how the legislation might be implemented before they take a position.

A long road ahead

To become a law, the legislation would need to be originated in the House of Representatives, because it deals with taxing the population, and then be approved by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate before the state Constitution could be amended, said Sen. Lindsay Tippins (R-west Cobb).

Once a bill is approved, the majority of the state population would need to approve the legislation in a general election before counties could decide to individually vote to implement a LEST, Tippins said.

There was a similar bill proposed last year that tried to split the current Ed-SPLOST into two groups –– capital improvement, and maintenance and operations –– but was shot down before it got to the discussion stage, Tippins said.

Smaller, rural counties that don’t generate enough sales-tax revenue to benefit from county-wide taxes like LEST might not be supportive of this legislation, added Tippins, as the revenue collected from property taxes might be greater.

He thinks it will be easier to pass a similar split-tax in Cobb County than institute an entirely new tax, but it is too early to tell how the legislation will be received, as it is still being written.

Comments
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Cobb Taxpayer
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October 09, 2013
I suspect Banks, Crooks and Hill (sounds like attorney's for a TV infomercial) are posting most of the comments.

Schools in Cobb are good, for the most part. However, we have a board or a system that will not allow the taxpayers to see the evaluation of the superintendent. We can vote board members in or out of office, but we cannot have a say in the superintendent. There have been issues with Hinojosa from the very beginning, like was he truly vetted, he will not release his evaluations, etc.

Great Schools but a dysfunctional board and superintendent.
Cobb History Teacher
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October 11, 2013
I would suggest that all of those critical of Cobb County Schools take some time to do observations (better yet step up to the plate and sub or teach) in a number of the schools particularly the middle and high schools before you condemn the system, it's leaders and or it's staff. Most of the people I know who are highly critical of the schools could not hack teaching.
Education Advocate
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October 08, 2013
Quality of life within our community is directly related to the quality of our school system. Property values, new business development, overall economic growth are all tied to how well our schools perform. We can talk about living within our means and that is what the school system is required to do by law. Some commenters have suggested that cutting front office administrative staff would relieve the deficit. If the Board were to cut every front office administrative position it would amount to a savings of about $7 million dollars out of a close to $900 million dollar budget.

It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback and to make assumptions based on feelings and not facts. Cobb County is one of the best performing and largest school systems in the nation with over 106,000 students to be educated and 114 schools and other capital assets of close to $1.5 billion dollars that have to be maintained. Unfortunately that can’t be done on donations. This year the dollars to operate our school system was short almost $89 million dollars and compromises had to be made. Teaching and other positions were cut, furlough days were implemented and class sizes were increased.

About half of the funds supporting our schools come from the State, a very small portion from the Feds and the remainder from local property taxes. With costs continuing to increase while revenues decrease or remain stagnant, although requested, there is no financial relief coming from the State.

The Board of Education has no choice but to balance the budget which is based on projected revenue from the three sources mentioned above. So, when anticipated revenues do not equal anticipated expenditures, what are the alternatives, cuts to balance? The question is, if adequate funding is not available what are the ultimate consequences of those cuts? At what point do cuts impact the “Quality of Education” parents, students and the community expects and demands.



The L.E.S.T. being discussed is an alternative, and it is important to understand that it can only be implemented when and if approved through a local voter referendum. This gives the local community, not the Republican or Democrat politicians, the ability to decide the level and “Quality of Education” they are willing to adequately fund. I have found that when decisions are left up to those directly affected by them, they generally do the right thing.

Don't bicker-think
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October 08, 2013
Property values are not going up any time soon. Our schools are going down hill and the county is losing great teachers to other professions and districts. No one wants to pay taxes but they want the best services. Forget about the two parties and do what is right for the children. The tax would have to specify the money does Not go toward board members or county executives salaries. Only teacher and local building salaries. Otherwise, the superintendent will continue to allow his administrative assistance to hire more assistance who will hire more assistance. PEOPLE-WE NEED HELP!
Bill N
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October 08, 2013
Banks and Crooks. What more do you need to know?
anonymous
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October 08, 2013
Something HAS to be done, or our property values are going to absolutely die.
Just Wait
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October 08, 2013
I've got an idea. How about living within your means. Instead of looking for new money, use what you get wisely. Sadly, I know for a schools system, "wise" is not a word they understand.
Incredulous
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October 08, 2013
Analogy for "Just Wait": IRS owes you a $15K refund. You build capacity and infrastructure in your business based on money YOU ARE LEGALLY OWED. The IRS decides it "just doesn't have the resources to pay" you the money it is required to by law. No, live within your means. All together, the state of Georgia owes school districts across Georgia nearly $5 billion. This is money GEORGIA LAW STATES THEY MUST PAY (Quality Basic Education Law. Cobb alone is owed over $353 million. Educate yourself before you spout off again.
Cobb History Teacher
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October 11, 2013
We've tried that. Teacher have taken pay cuts, and we've reduced our staffing all the while more and more demands have been made of the students and the staff. i suggest you spend some real quality time in the schools examine the costs, and the resources required to produce the results the citizens demand.
Any Help is Good
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October 08, 2013
I think this is a great idea that merits some research. Our government (both local and federal) are not going to be over funding (or ever PROPERLY funding) education anytime soon - so before our school districts really bottom out, here is a way that could actually help lower class size and increase teacher morale at the same time. Before people are quick to say "NO TAXES" - take serious look at this. Much like the Ed SPLOST, this tax spreads over EVERYONE who buys goods - not just the property owners.
TAX HIKE!
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October 08, 2013
When did it become the Republican way to solve a fiscal problem by raising taxes? You could replace Banks' and Crooks' name with John McCain and Lindsey Graham and it would sound like the same story.
FROM TEXAS
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October 08, 2013
You’ve got to love these so-called conservative Republican’s that get in office and can find more new ways to tax the public. This Bozo should be reducing the administrative cost and give the teachers a pay raise bet he has a draw full of old Democrat buttons most of these where Demorat’s before being born again.
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