The holidays are over, kids are back in school, and parents are back at work. The General Assembly will be convening shortly to discuss matters of importance related to our great state. In the meantime, there are issues right here in Cobb that we need to examine. One of these is the upcoming vote to extend the ESPLOST. Perhaps it should be renamed.
So let's start with a pretty basic question: What does ESPLOST stand for? It's supposed to be an Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Essentially, it is a means by which we are allowed to levy on ourselves a 1 percent sales tax to fund capital expenditures needed or wanted by our school system.
However, the proposed project list put forth by the Cobb County School District appears to be moving away from education and more toward sports and recreation. I understand that sports and cultural arts are important to some, but am I the only one who finds it odd that the proposal has three times as much allotted for new gymnasiums and theaters as it does for the entire "Instructional/Learning Resources/Textbooks" category?
There's $121.8 million for gymnasiums and theaters versus $40 million for learning resources. (I didn't even include the 5 percent contingency funds, 10 percent fees, $10-million for gymnasium lighting upgrades, $4.5-million for track resurfacing, $1-million for tennis courts or $1-million for athletic field electrical projects here.)
Unless we're aiming to raise a generation of NBA stars and Julia Roberts, perhaps we should look at better educating our kids first. Sure, Cobb has some fantastic schools. Lassiter, Pope, and Walton fall in the top 10 in SchoolDigger.com's rankings. But overall, Cobb ranks No. 34 out of the 164 school districts in this state (which is ranked No. 48 in the nation) and includes (out of 367 high schools) McEachern at 138, Pebblebrook at 161, and South Cobb at 190. Beyond that, some of our elementary schools are ranking in the 800s out of the 1,161 elementary schools in the state.
Compton Elementary, for instance, in Powder Springs shows 51.4 percent of the school met the standard on the CRCT for third grade science. Do you think perhaps we could take some of the money allotted for secondary gyms and use it to better educate our kids?
Wait, what's that? Secondary gyms? Yes, you read that correctly.
I had the opportunity recently to meet with a small group from the Cobb County School District, including Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and board members Scott Sweeney and David Banks. While our conversations were pleasant and congenial, I have to disagree with them over the strategy here. You see, our county high schools, from what I have been told, have a main gymnasium and an auxiliary gymnasium. So we'll build these new main gymnasiums, the current main gymnasium will become the auxiliary gymnasium and we'll tear down the old auxiliary gymnasium.
Letting my curiosity continue here, I had to ask if two gyms at every high school were really necessary. Not that many years ago, I graduated from Parkview High School, which only had one gym.
There are scheduling issues where there is sometimes a demand for the gym by more than one group at a time. A suggestion that the groups unable to use the gym go outside was met with "well then you can deal with the calls from the parents."
Am I to understand that parents out there are really saying our kids are no longer able to play outside? Yes, I understand some days are cold or hot or whatever, but I don't see that as a deterrent from telling kids that they're too fragile to get out there and play.
So while I support furthering education of our kids, I just don't see enough of that coming from this particular proposal.
I urge each of you to vote no in March and let's rework this "Sports and Recreation" Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax into a true Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that we can all support.