Opinion: Follow the money Cobb Schools spends on COVID-19

"Iggy", 30e Scientific's first aqueous ozone hand washing station is installed in the Bryant Elementary School cafeteria in Mableton.  Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
"Iggy", 30e Scientific's first aqueous ozone hand washing station is installed in the Bryant Elementary School cafeteria in Mableton. Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Parents make case district hasn’t shown due diligence in spending millions on products to combat pandemic

Heather Tolley-Bauer and Jessica Bergeron are part of Watching the Funds-Cobb, a grassroots group formed to bring attention to how the Cobb County School District’s leadership and board members spend public dollars, including the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or SPLOST and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act funds.

In a guest column, the pair explain what the group does and why.

Formed in January by parents and a retired teacher, the group wants all Cobb County stakeholders to be aware where the money goes and whether it is being spent wisely and correctly. It brought attention to the purchase, installation and malfunction of UV lights in some elementary school classrooms.

Recently, the district canceled its contract with Protek Life for the lights. As the AJC Cobb schools reporter Kristal Dixon wrote last month:

The decision to remove the lights comes nine days after lights in two offices at Argyle Elementary School malfunctioned, coming on while students and teachers were in the building. It also follows intense scrutiny by some parents after the Board of Education in December voted to spend up to $12 million to install the lights, as well as hand-rinsing machines, at all of Cobb's 67 elementary schools.

The district has told ProTek Life, based in Kennesaw, that it will stop using the lights and will require the company to remove the technology from its schools. It's also requesting ProTek to refund the money it spent on the purchase.

With that background, here is the guest column.

By Jessica Bergeron and Heather Tolley-Bauer

Our tax dollars fund the Cobb County School District’s almost $1.3 billion budget. According to Marc Smith, chief technology and operations officer, 90% of that budget pays for salaries alone, leaving very little left over for facilities, maintenance, and technology costs.

SPLOST money bridges the gap and the recent award of federal CARES ACT funds were intended to help the district fund COVID-19 related expenses.

Our school district’s budget is like our own household budgets; hard-earned and limited. Every dollar spent in one place means it cannot be spent somewhere else. We have a responsibility to use our resources sensibly to benefit our families, and the Cobb Board of Education, the Superintendent, and procurement staff have the same duty to spend our money conservatively and in our best interests.

 Jessica Bergeron
Jessica Bergeron

Recently a group of five women got together to form a watchdog group called Watching The Funds-Cobb. Our mission is to watch how our district spends our money because we believe the Cobb School Board and superintendent Chris Ragsdale have been irresponsible in their duties to spend taxpayer and COVID-19 relief money wisely and effectively.

One glaring example is the recent, multi-million-dollar purchase of the “Iggy” aqueous ozone hand rinsing machines by manufacturer 3Oe.

In December, based on the superintendent’s recommendation with no presentation of data and no meaningful discussion allowed by the board chairman, the board voted 4-2 to spend up to $12 million in CARES Act funds on two COVID-19 mitigation products, including these hand rinsing machines installed in Cobb elementary schools.

Yes, you read that right. Hand rinsing, not hand sanitizing, as was requested in the district’s request for proposal late last year.

Each unit costs $14,361 with a yearly maintenance cost of $2,154. We have not seen documentation showing the total number of machines purchased, where they are installed or how much the district has spent so far.

 Heather Tolley-Bauer
Heather Tolley-Bauer

However, we do know that is that Iggy does not kill the COVID-19 virus. A scientist from 3Oe presented at the March 18 board meeting, showing a list of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that Iggy can kill. While “Coronavirus 229e” was on the list, it is just the technical term for the common cold. COVID-19 is NOT on the list of viruses that Iggy can kill, yet COVID- 19 relief money was used to fund this purchase.

Why not spend our limited budget on resources proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including improved ventilation, additional teachers for smaller class sizes, and PPE for teachers, staff, and bus drivers?

Iggy does not replace soap and water. The scientist from 3Oe admitted that a child with dirty hands must wash their hands with soap and water before using the Iggy machine. If this machine was originally marketed to clean hands, why would a child need to wash hands and then use the machine to rinse their hands?

From the beginning of the pandemic, health officials have told us to wash our hands with soap and water, so why are we spending millions on a product that is not proven to kill COVID-19 when soap and water is all that is needed! Let’s prioritize putting warm water and soap in every bathroom at every Cobb school.

Iggy was never tested in schools until now. This product has never been used in schools in the United States. In fact, the Cobb County School District is the first ever customer for the Iggy product. Why are we pouring millions of dollars into unproven and untested technology?

Whether you have children in school or not, you pay taxes. The community pays the board members and school leaders to keep our kids healthy and safe while maintaining a healthy budget. We recognize it is a hard job -- but they signed up for it, they work for us, and we deserve better.

Please join us as we hold leaders accountable. Contact your board representative and our superintendent to demand they cancel the contract with 30e for the Iggy hand rinsing machines, review all other technology purchases, eliminate redundancies and conduct an audit of all procurement procedures.

Let them know that together, we are watching the funds.

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