Cobb taxpayers will be asked to renew a 1 percent special sales tax in March, a proposal that, if approved, would bring in more than $773 million that school board officials say is needed for capital improvements.
The school board decided Wednesday to put the measure on the ballot. If passed, the Cobb County and Marietta school systems will use the funds from the special purpose local option sales tax to replace several schools, build a college and career academy, upgrade other facilities and purchase textbooks and new technology, according to a list of projects on the district’s website.
The special election sets up another raucous fight in tax-weary Cobb County, where, in 2011, a four-year extension of the county’s SPLOST for parks, recreation and road renovation throughout Cobb passed by only 79 votes.
“That was a grievously flawed proposal, and it’s the same thing here,” said Lance Lamberton, the president of the Cobb County Taxpayers Association. “This plan is full of lard and pork and wants, not needs. It’s deja vu all over again.”
Marietta and Cobb County school boards are asking voters to extend a 1 percent tax that is scheduled to expire at the end of next year. Money from the expiring tax was used to replace three elementary schools and upgrade several facilities.
The election will take place on March 19 and cost Marietta and Cobb County schools $300,000.
Although Cobb and Marietta’s growth has waned, board members and administrators said renewing the five-year tax will allow the district to upgrade dilapidated facilities amid deep state austerity cuts.
“This is a needs-based notebook from front to back,” Chris Ragsdale, the deputy superintendent of operational support, told board members Wednesday.
But critics say the plan is full of “cosmetic” projects that are outside the purview of SPLOST, lacks detail and doesn’t reflect the district’s needs.
Cobb’s 111-page SPLOST proposal includes replacing Walton High School, purchasing $40 million worth of textbooks and $29 million worth of new school buses.
Marietta City Schools will use its $55 million share to retire debt, renovate their football field and upgrade several facilities and technology.
Tom Maloy, a member of Georgia’s Tea Party and a Cobb County resident, said some of the projects are unnecessary while others, such as the new college and career academy, can be done in existing facilities.
“Rather than determining what is needed to improve our children’s education and then calculating the cost to do so, someone has determined what the maximum tax revenue allowed under the law can be and is now back-filling with questionable projects to spend it,” Maloy said. “That’s not only backwards … it’s inefficient.”
Last year, after the county proposed the special tax for parks and recreation, anti-tax residents mailed literature, waved signs and held a televised debate. Both the local tea party and the Cobb County Taxpayers Association said they will launch a similar campaign against the school districts’ proposal.
Cobb and Marietta school officials can’t advocate for the proposal, said Cobb’s spokesman Jay Dillon. But they will post information about the SPLOST on the Cobb County schools’ website and produce an informational video that shows how SPLOST works by highlighting projects from previous SPLOST initiatives, he said.
Dillon said he anticipates a separate grassroots campaign to be launched by local PTA members.