As expected, the Cobb Board of Education on Wednesday adopted a resolution to call for a March 2013 referendum to extend the Education SPLOST.
But the job of selling voters on a $717 million school construction and maintenance project list figures to be a challenging one, given Cobb's recent SPLOST track record.
The one-cent sales tax, if approved by voters, would begin in January 2014 and would be collected through December 2018.
But before the vote, representatives of a local taxpayers group and the Georgia Tea Party spoke out against a March referendum.
And the chairwoman of the school board's SPLOST citizen oversight panel predicted that the finalized SPLOST IV "notebook" (see attached PDF) will fail at the polls.
The board voted only 4-1 to adopt the resolution, which sets a special election on March 19, 2013, and that will cost $300,000.
Board chairman Scott Sweeney and vice chairman David Morgan voted in favor of the resolution, as did board members Lynnda Eagle and David Banks.
Board member Kathleen Angelucci, who along with colleague Tim Stultz had sought a delay in the referendum to November 2013, voted against the resolution, saying the public won't have enough time to digest the project list.
She also repeated concerns about a proposed $30 million career academy that has no location. At a presentation last week, school officials offered few details about how school operations, including teacher salaries, would be funded beyond construction.
"I have serious reservations," Angelucci said. While the idea of a career academy is "not the issue, the ends seem to justify the means." She questioned how the school system can "entertain the notion of spending tax money for a new building" when other existing needs are going unmet.
Board member Alison Bartlett, who was defeated in her re-election bid last week, abstained from voting, although she says she hopes the SPLOST will pass and will be pushing for its approval.
"But since I won't be here to hold the school system accountable, I don't feel I can vote for [the resolution]," she said.
Stultz was not at the meeting because of a business commitment.
Angelucci's remarks drew applause from several audience members, including some who spoke out against the March referendum.
Tom Maloy of the Georgia Tea Party and Lance Lamberton of the Cobb County Taxpayers league cited "unanswered questions" about the career academy and the continuing litany of uninterrupted SPLOST collections for their opposition.
"A lot of us in Cobb are SPLOSTed out," said Lamberton, who was a vocal figure against the 2011 Cobb government SPLOST that passed by 100 votes, as well as the metro Atlanta transportation SPLOST that was soundly defeated this summer.
So was Maloy, who told school board members that "we believe that the process needs to be slowed down."
They echoed Angelucci's call for more time to examine the 155-page project list, which was revised for the final time last week. It includes the following major projects:
- Nearly $40 million for a new fine arts facility, theater, gymnasium and other improvements at Walton High School;
- Nearly $30 million for an East Cobb area replacement middle school;
- Nearly $30 million for the reconstruction of Osborne High School;
- Nearly $30 million for the career academy;
- Two replacement elementary schools costing $23 million each.
Also pleading for a delay was Kim Euston, chairwoman of the school board's Facilties and Technology Committee. She's been especially vocal for the last month that the notebook was hastily produced and is pessimistic about its chances of meeting the muster of voters.
"Anti-tax, anti-government sentiment is high in Cobb," Euston said. "This project list as it is will not pass in March."
Walton parents advocated in favor of the March vote and the notebook, which they say is badly needed to address severe overcrowding and antiquated facilities at the East Cobb high school.
They also dismissed concerns about the timing of the referendum, which critics believe will lead to lower turnout.
"It's the public's responsibility to turn out in March," said Walton parent Patti Morgan. "As a member of the Walton community, when something is important, we come out and vote."
Sweeney, who represents the Walton district, said that without continued SPLOST funding -- combined with the lack of state funding and a drop in the county's tax digest -- the Cobb school budget deficit could swell from an estimated $40 million hole for fiscal year 2014.
"It's not inconceivable that it's more than a $100 million shortfall," he said. "I'm not trying to spread panic and fear, but I think it's very important to have that context in mind. The programs are extremely vital to the community."