With two weeks left until Cobb residents vote on a new 1% education sales tax cycle, Croy Engineering President Greg Teague lunched with the Metro Marietta Kiwanis Club before asking members to support the referendum.
Teague, who is in line to become the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s chairman in 2023, said he’s been promoting the tax to local civic groups along with current chamber Chairman John Loud and chamber President and CEO Sharon Mason.
“We’re all kind of dividing and conquering to be able to go out and actually just make sure people are aware it’s on the ballot, and be able to answer questions they might have,” Teague said in an interview.
Teague answered questions from Kiwanians about the scheduling of the vote, what it will fund, why he believes it preferable to other taxes and the benefits that investment in education brings.
Teague and other chamber officials see the Ed-SPLOST (education special purpose local option sales tax) as tied to Cobb’s continued economic development. For instance, the roughly $1 billion in projects for the county’s two school systems is a boon for the construction industry, Teague said. Ed-SPLOST projects such as a new career academy in north Cobb and updates to schools across the district ensure workforce development for years to come, he added. And as the population grows, the county’s schools need to plan for more students.
“If I could bring to you an economic development project that says, over the next five years, we’re going to spend a billion dollars right here in Cobb County, everybody would think that was one of the best economic development plans we could ever see,” Teague told the Kiwanians. “Well that’s exactly what you have.”
Kiwanis member and former Cobb GOP Chair Rose Wing believes the career academy, which will be CCSD’s second, is a smart investment.
“It provides them the opportunity to go ahead and obtain a license, and get out into the workforce and make a good living,” Wing said after Teague’s talk. “Without going and feeling they have to go forward to get a college education, when it’s what they want to do for their life.”
If approved, the 1% sales tax would begin at the start of 2024, right after Ed-SPLOST V expires. Ed-SPLOST VI would run five years, through the end of 2028.
The Cobb County School District would use the funds for the new career academy, a new elementary school in south Cobb, major upgrades to east Cobb’s Sprayberry High and more.
CCSD’s project list also includes 36 roof replacements, 49 flooring replacements, 40 window replacements and 31 HVAC improvements/replacements.
Marietta City Schools would receive $71.5 million from Ed-SPLSOT VI and use it for new technology for students renovations to several schools and more.
Complete project lists can be found on the two districts’ websites.
OppositionTeague also appeared on a virtual panel held by the Mableton Improvement Coalition last week, where he found himself defending the referendum amid criticism over where the money will go.
Four other panelists said during the forum that the Cobb school board’s Republican majority is not a good steward of taxpayer money; that the vote is premature; and that the list of projects the tax would fund doesn’t do enough to correct for past underinvestment in south Cobb, which is more diverse and less wealthy than the northern and eastern parts of the county.
Then, at last Thursday’s Cobb school board meeting, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale spoke out, saying that “unfortunately, and quite regrettably, some continue to push the idea that only certain schools or areas of Cobb get the majority of SPLOST funding.”
Though Teague received a friendly reception Monday, Kiwanis members had evidently heard about the criticism from some south Cobb residents.
Teague acknowledged that people were frustrated with the division and partisan rancor on the Cobb school board. But once approved, the money will be used for specific, pre-determined projects, he emphasized.
“You’re not voting on masks. You’re not voting on policies. You’re voting on a list of improvements to the schools that your children are going to and getting educated in,” Teague said.
Voters of both parties may believe they should not give any more money to a government they don’t feel represents them.
“And I’m like, wait a minute, SPLOST is different,” Teague said. “You’re voting on the list. They can’t change, you know, if there’s a shift one way or the other on the school board, you’re voting on the list, so they can’t change it down the road.”
What about the charge, argued by state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, that the vote doesn’t need to occur more than two years before the tax takes effect? Teague said that it would be risky to put Ed-SPLOST on next year’s ballot, when the county government plans to ask voters to approve a mobility SPLOST to fund transportation improvements. Placing it on the 2023 ballot would be too late, he added, since the school board will already be in the 2023-2024 budget year.
Teague pitched Ed-SPLOST as paying for “actual things you can touch,” and said it is “politically agnostic.” Given that it must be approved by both the Cobb and Marietta school boards, and supervised by a citizen’s committee, it is the most transparent tax one can vote for, he said.
Cobb voters have approved a new Ed-SPLOST every few years since the late 1990s to fund CCSD and Marietta City Schools.
The tax is used for special projects, such as new construction, while day-to-day operations are funded by property taxes and state funding. The county’s schools have come to rely on the SPLOST funds.
“The SPLOST is basically replacing what we used to do with bond issue?” asked Kiwanis member Bob Morgan.
“Correct,” replied Teague, adding that such bonds — and the interest on them — had to be paid for by property owners. Approximately 25-30% of SPLOST funds are paid by non-Cobb residents who pay sales tax in the county, the school districts say.
“Look at the (Braves) game last night (Sunday) … how many people came into Cobb County that are non-Cobb residents? Every hot dog, every soft drink, every shirt that they bought helped maintain our school system,” Teague said.
Campaign continuesTeague said in an interview that he and other Ed-SPLOST advocates are being careful not to see passage as a shoo-in. He hopes for a high turnout given that five cities have municipal elections, but is somewhat worried about the fact that Ed-SPLOST is the only thing motivating voters in unincorporated Cobb to come out.
Teague said he and others were concerned that the last Ed-SPLOST election, in 2017, wouldn’t pass. However, it ended up being approved overwhelmingly with more than 70% of the vote.
“What we don’t ever want to do is take our voters for granted. We want to make sure that they’re informed and educated about what’s on the ballot, and that we keep proving to them that that value is there.”