Marietta school bond overcomes opposition; construction imminent

Marietta voters on Tuesday approved a $7 million general obligation bond to help build the $8.9 million auditorium at the school on Whitlock Avenue. The bond, which had been opposed by a county taxpayers group and was failing as results came induring much of election night, eventually passed with 53 percent of the vote.

Marietta City Schools board members and superintendent Emily Lembeck have stumped for the project at a series of public meetings since last spring. An auditorium was left out of plans for a new high school 11 years ago amid cost overruns. Since then the school’s arts classes have outgrown its space, leaving dancers practicing in the gym and chorus students crammed into makeshift classrooms.

“I’m elated [the referendum] passed, but we all need to be cognizant that we are in difficult economic times, and because of that, this project needs to come in on time and on budget,” said MHS principal Leigh Colburn.

Construction will take up to 18 months to finish. The school district will pay $2 million out of a building fund to complete the auditorium that will be used for school and community functions.

The school system plans to pay off the bond debt in five years using funds from an education sales tax, if voters approve extending the tax next year, said school board chair Jill Mutimer. If the tax is not approved, the bond will have to be paid off by raising property taxes. The expected increase would be about $11 on a $200,000 house starting in 2015.

Brett Bittner, vice-president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association and a former officer with the county’s Libertarian Party, actively campaigned against the bond leading up to Election Day. Although the bond passed, the close margin of victory shows that taxpayers are growing wary of these funding requests, he said.

“School systems are expanding what they are doing and taking a bigger piece of our paycheck yet the [academic] results aren’t getting any better,” said Bittner. “All we see is more money being taken away from the taxpayer.”

At the polls Tuesday, Melvin Hill, whose three children matriculated through the high school, said he voted against the bond.

“I don’t want any more local tax spent on this,” Hill said. “They went way over budget building the school and should have included a theater then.”

Still, Michele Bartlett and Karen Shearer, who also have children in the city schools system, voted for the bond. Bartlett said all schools need a place to participate in the arts and dance.

‘This is something that we, the school and community, would utilize heavily,” Shearer said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.