MARIETTA — During a Cobb school board meeting on Thursday, board member Randy Scamihorn presented data he said showed the district has not ignored the needs of any one region of the county.
Scamihorn broke down school district spending from the county’s special 1% sales tax for education through nearly 25 years, laying out how much money had been spent or allocated by each board member’s post since the tax’s first iteration in 1998.
The latest renewal of the education sales tax, or Ed-SPLOST V, which was approved by more than 70% voters in 2017, began collecting revenue in January, and is expected to bring in up to $797 million.
Scamihorn’s presentation showed the following split of Ed-SPLOST spending since 1998 by region, and factored in a “conservative” estimate of expected Ed-SPLOST V spending:
♦ Post 1 (northwest), Randy Scamihorn: $287,723,349 (17%)
♦ Post 2 (south), Jaha Howard: $349,393,030 (21%)
♦ Post 3 (southwest), David Morgan: $247,993,227 (15%)
♦ Post 4 (north), David Chastain (chair): $176,187,425 (11%)
♦ Post 5 (northeast), David Banks: $167,896,942 (10%)
♦ Post 6 (east), Charisse Davis: $272,229,570 (16%)
♦ Post 7 (west), Brad Wheeler (vice chair): $168,847,511 (10%)
Residents of south Cobb have criticized the district over SPLOST spending in the past few years, saying money flows disproportionately away from south Cobb schools and toward wealthier areas of the county.
Scamihorn said the data showed the district does not favor one region of the county but rather spends dollars in the most urgent areas of need.
As population growth has shifted around the county over the last 25 years, Scamihorn said, different areas have expressed the same frustration with feeling unheard as some communities in south Cobb are now. The numbers prove the district is doing the best they can with the money the have, he said.
“This is not an attempt to say that somebody, whether it’s my area or not, doesn’t need something,” Scamihorn said. “We have a finite amount of dollars and plenty of projects to go around.”
But board members Jaha Howard and Charisse Davis said including the proposed spending from the most recent iteration of the sales tax, for which projects will continue for the next five to six years, is misleading.
Davis said other factors, like redistricting over the life of SPLOST and inflation since 1998, would also affect the appearance of the split-up of spending.
“I just didn’t feel like it was an apples to apples comparison,” she said.
Howard added that regardless of what the dollar amounts show, the spending does not appear to be reflected in the quality of infrastructure across the district.
“And yet the schools in my neck of the woods in Post 2 still look vastly different than schools in other parts of the county, just looking from a layperson’s point of view,” he said, adding that he is glad these conversations are starting. “I think it’s important that if we’re going to throw out a set of numbers, that we don’t do injustice and try to make one set of numbers say something that it doesn’t necessarily say.”
Howard also questioned how much of the spending shown in each district is new construction versus maintenance or other smaller projects.
Scamihorn countered Howard’s comments, saying the district is not just “starting” to address SPLOST spending. He said when his tenure on the board began, families from Walton High School in east Cobb were beating the same drum.
The district has identified more than $2 billion in needs across all its board posts, according to Superintendent Ragsdale. The problem remains that any given SPLOST will bring in less than $1 billion, he said.
“When you’re talking about these kinds of numbers, needs certainly outweigh revenue, so there’s prioritization when SPLOST is put together, but again as we’ve always said, we expend the dollars where the needs are,” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale acknowledged that the spending is not even, but said projects typically focus on the areas of highest growth in the county, which have shifted over the years. He pointed specifically to Post 2’s numbers from Scamihorn’s report.
At the close of discussion, Howard requested that James Wilson, the district’s demographics consultant, provide updated statistics including SPLOST V spending to date.
“I think it would give us an accurate view,” he said.
In other business, the board approved the following items:
♦ Disposal of school district surplus property;
♦ An application laying out $12.8 million in capital projects for potential reimbursements from the state for fiscal year 2021; and
♦ Adoption of a certificate of resolution to be submitted to the state for a reimbursement of $79,498.51 for a capital project at Hayes Elementary School.