[This is a guest opinion article by John Loud of Loud Security Systems, Inc., Chairman of the Cobb Chamber. His column appears monthly in the Cobb Business Journal published by the Marietta Daily Journal, and this is a reprint from his column, used with permission.
On November 2, every resident of Cobb County who is registered to vote will have the opportunity to vote on our future. The children in our community deserve the best schools. There is a direct correlation between the quality of school buildings and student performance. According to researchers at the California Policy Lab at UCLA and UC Berkeley, “School facility investments lead to modest, gradual improvements in student test scores, large immediate improvements in student attendance, and significant improvements in student effort.”
The Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is a 1 percent sales tax that has been used by the Cobb County School District and Marietta City Schools for more than 20 years to raise money for building funds. Cobb County has a 6 percent sales tax, with 4 percent going to the state, 1 percent to the general SPLOST (which was extended last November with more than 66 percent of the vote) and 1 percent to our schools. Cobb County has the lowest sales tax in Metro Atlanta and extending the Ed-SPLOST will maintain our 6 percent rate.
Good schools foster strong communities, and our school systems are a draw for many families. They keep our property values high and encourage the growth of the county. Our low taxes draw many of those without school-age children to our community as well, and it is worth noting that if the Ed-SPLOST were to be discontinued, a millage rate increase would be the most likely way to overcome the budget shortfall.
We have seen studies on the SPLOST tax that suggest as much as 25 percent of the money raised will come from outside the county – think about people visiting Six Flags, The Battery/Truist Park, White Water and our great small businesses and restaurants.
On the topic of the school system’s budgets, many may ask why these building funds are needed in addition to their regular budgets. The answer is that our property tax millage rate is currently set to mostly fund personnel: teachers, administrators, coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodial staff and all the other folks who keep our schools running. Staffing alone is almost 90 percent of CCSD’s operating budget. The other 10 percent goes to classroom items like textbooks and supplies and pays for utilities including gas, electric, water and fuel.
Since the first Ed-SPLOST in 1999, the Ed-SPLOST has built dozens of schools and thousands of classrooms. Enrollment may have flatlined in 2008, but many of CCSD’s and MCS’s schools are more than 40 years old and do not have the space and resources our kids deserve.
In the past few years, you may have seen some facilities improvements across the county, such as at Eastvalley, Harmony Leland and King Springs Elementary Schools, and the new Pearson Middle School in Smyrna. You might have seen the progress made modifying Campbell, Hillgrove, Lassiter, North Cobb, Osborne, Pebblebrook, South Cobb, Sprayberry, Walton, and Wheeler High Schools, and at Dickerson, Dodgen and Lovinggood Middle Schools. And those are just the major projects in Cobb County School District!
Critically, the Ed-SPLOST pays for safety, security and support technologies, including security cameras and fencing, traffic controls and updating school communications systems. It also pays for renovation projects and equipment purchases that serve students with disabilities and helps our school meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Educational technology is also included in the Ed-SPLOST, upgrading our school district’s networks, data centers, phones and servers. It helps replace outdated technology like printers and copiers as well as interactive classroom devices, band instruments and our STEM and robotics labs.
Our Ed-SPLOST is about improving the brick and mortar of our schools, but it is also about so much more. It is about our kids and the instruction they receive.
The Ed-SPLOST is not about the curriculum or school board policies. The Ed-SPLOST is not partisan. The project list for both Marietta City Schools and Cobb County School District reaches across party lines of the school boards.
This November, we have the opportunity to vote YES on an Ed-SPLOST that is focused on our children and the future of Cobb County. The upcoming Ed-SPLOST is estimated to raise about $900 million for the Cobb County School District and $71 million for Marietta City Schools. And every school in both districts will get a part of that.
Among all the amazing projects in the upcoming Ed-SPLOST, I am most passionate about the new Career Academy in North Cobb. All of Cobb’s students are best served when our schools provide them opportunities to succeed after they graduate. Career academies and vocational education are some of the most exciting innovations of 21st-century education and I hope that both of our school systems will continue to provide real-world skills to our kids.
I plan to vote “yes” on November 2 because I believe in the project lists for both school districts. I believe the Ed-SPLOST is the best way to collect the necessary funds to keep our schools world-class and keep our taxes low. And I am voting “yes” because I believe the Ed-SPLOST oversight committee will make sure taxpayer money is spent appropriately and on budget.
I am asking you to vote “yes” if anything I have written here excites you. If you need to learn more, you can visit the school district websites and read the project lists and summaries they have provided. To learn more about the Marietta City Schools projects, you can visit their website: https://www.marietta-city.org/ To learn more about the Cobb County School District projects, you can visit their website: https://www.cobbk12.org/