Two members of the Cobb Board of Education said Monday they would prefer that a referendum to extend the Cobb Education SPLOST be delayed until November of next year.
The school board met Monday morning to continue discussions over a proposed $717 million "notebook" of school construction and maintenance projects (see attached PDF). The extended project list includes a total of $2 billion in identified needs.
A tentative March 19, 2013, referendum date has been targeted should the board vote at its monthly business meeting next Wednesday to call for a special election.
That would enable the Cobb County School District to continue collecting the one-penny sales tax without interruption when the current SPLOST III period ends at the end of 2013.
But near the end of Monday's 2-1/2 hour meeting, first-term members Tim Stultz of Post 2 (Smyrna area) and Kathleen Angelucci of Post 4 (North and Northeast Cobb) said the board and Cobb citizens need more time to finalize the project list and gather support.
"Moving this out would give the community longer to give this a look," Angelucci said. "SPLOST and a special election are not a good idea."
She and Stultz both referenced this past summer's metro Atlanta regional transportation SPLOST that went down to defeat in all 10 counties, especially in Cobb.
"Coming off T-SPLOST, there was a lot of animosity," said Stultz, who added that it "may be a benefit not to have [another referendum] less than a year after T-SPLOST."
At last month's SPLOST meeting, Stultz and Angelucci also asked for more details about a $30 million career academy included on the SPLOST IV list that would target non-college-bound high school students. The board heard a lengthy presentation on Monday, including a slideshow of an academy developed when Cobb school superintendent Michael Hinojosa was in charge of the Spring, Texas school district near Houston.
Board chairman Scott Sweeney of Post 6 (East Cobb) pointed out that Cobb voters spurned the T-SPLOST in large part because most of the tax revenues earmarked for the county would have been transit-related.
School board attorney Clem Doyle said that under state law, March and November are the only times the referendum could be held next year.
State law also stipulates that a new SPLOST period cannot begin until at least 80 days after a referendum. A November 2013 vote would delay the start of the SPLOST IV collection period, if it is approved by voters, until April 1, 2014.
"We're not in this thing alone," said Hinojosa, referring to the referendum, which also includes a SPLOST vote for Marietta City Schools.
He also said that the three-month gap in SPLOST collections, representing an estimated loss of $55 million, would be "another hit on the budget."
Sweeney said that by pushing back a referendum, "you're looking essentially at a one-year delay" in the start of projects on the list.
Stultz and Angelucci were echoing comments from Kim Euston, chairwoman of the school board's Facilities and Technology Committee, who has been urging for a delay in the SPLOST referendum until November 2013.
"I am personally asking you to slow down this process," she said during a public comment period during Monday's meeting, expressing concerns about what she termed "numerous inconsistencies" in the revised SPLOST IV list.
"SPLOST can pass," said Euston, an appointee of Sweeney, "but this notebook was put together haphazardly where the numbers don't add up."
Chris Ragsdale, the school system's deputy superintendent for operational support, said later that the process of gathering input from principals, school communities and others has been unprecedented.
"There has been more transparency in this process than there ever has been," he said, adding that while there has been a shorter window for putting together the project list, it hasn't been rushed.
"We've developed very quickly a legitimate needs list that far exceeds any expectation of revenues" in the next SPLOST period, Ragsdale added.