The board was split during a discussion of the Local Education Sales Tax, a one-cent tax that would join the education SPLOST in funding schools in Cobb County, raising the sales tax to 7 cents on the dollar.
Board member David Banks asked that the Rev. John Crooks, a minister at Roswell Street Baptist Church who came up with the idea, to be allowed to explain it.
When board Chairman Randy Scamihorn declined his request, Banks pulled out a prepared statement, pleading with board members to sign a letter endorsing the tax that would be sent to various state organizations.
“We cannot continue to kick the can down the road and place our educational excellence in jeopardy,” Banks said.
The Georgia School Boards Association will not take a stance on the issue until it receives a document with the Cobb school board’s approval, Banks said.
A heated debate ensued, with board member Kathleen Angelucci and Tim Stultz strongly opposing the measure, and board members Brad Wheeler, Scott Sweeney and Banks in support of signing the letter. Scamihorn served as a moderator, repeatedly stopping board members from interrupting each other. Board member David Morgan left the meeting, citing a familial obligation.
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa strongly supported the tax proposal, calling it, “a creative way to access some more revenue for our students, if the community votes to do so.”
Sweeney said the proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment, could potentially be used to reverse the increasing classroom sizes in Cobb, and restore the school system’s ability to comfortably balance its budget without using furlough days.
Stultz vehemently opposed adding yet another tax to the residents of Cobb County.
“It’s a cop-out, it’s for people who don’t have a spine,” who ran on conservative principles and are now advocating a tax increase, he said.
Stultz said it was one thing if the board wanted to eliminate property taxes altogether and fund the district solely through a sales tax. But to add another sales tax on top of property taxes and the SPLOST was just another tax increase.
“ I do not believe that we need to be taking any more money out of taxpayers’ pockets to pay for more taxes,” Stultz said.
Banks defended his idea, saying “this is pure democracy. The taxpayers make the decision on how they want to fund their school system.”
Scamihorn was unsure.
“If this is an added tax, then I’m not sure I can support it,” he added, asking, “Why is it up to one little county in the entire state of Georgia to do this? Why aren’t our state legislators carrying the ball?”
When Stultz said the tax would hurt seniors, Banks said Cobb’s senior citizen population would support an additional one percent tax increase for education.
All board members agreed that there were no simple solutions to the current budget’s expected $80 million shortfall, but they were divided on just where to find the extra funds.
“We do not have any tool in our bucket that is going to fix this problem,” Sweeney said, suggesting that the LEST tax was the only option.
“This is how taxes get passed. Fear mongering,” said Angelucci, “Once it starts, there’s no way to get away from it. I have no confidence that this wouldn’t be permanent,” she added, citing the continuous renewal of the county’s SPLOST tax.
Because of Morgan’s absence and the lack of public input on the matter, the board decided to move the discussion and a vote on whether to endorse the idea, to its next board meeting on Oct. 24.
“After reading this a couple of times, I believe it needs to be redrafted,” said Scamihorn, “It’s not clear what we are asking for in the letter.”
In other business, a debate over bidding out the county’s legal services resulted in the decision to take a “vote of affirmation” to continue with the same firm at the Oct. 24 meeting. Board attorney Clem Doyle said his firm has represented the county for nearly 20 years.
And the board decided to move the discussion of the district’s accreditation process to its November work session.