The Cobb County Board of Education could decide tonight whether to raise property taxes to balance the fiscal 2012 budget.
A lively debate is likely before the board votes on declaring $22.2 million from the school system’s second Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to be excess funds, allowing that money to be applied to the general fund for fiscal 2012. SPLOST II ended Dec. 31, 2008, and raised more money than budgeted for capital projects.
The school system’s chief financial officer, Mike Addison, crafted a balanced budget proposal for the 2011-12 school year based on an increase in the millage rate from 18.9 to 20 mills but recommended using the SPLOST II surplus to replace the revenue expected from that tax increase. That step would allow the to continue billing property owners at 18.9 mills even though the tax rate would officially be 20 mills.
“As far as the public’s concerned, we have a budget at 20 mills, and then in July we’ll apply the excess proceeds against the millage rate of 20 mills” to roll it back to 18.9, said board member David Banks of Post 5 in Northeast and East Cobb.
The school system first used the maneuver a year ago to save teaching positions and programs.
Board members David Morgan of South Cobb’s Post 3, Lynnda Crowder-Eagle of West Cobb’s Post 1 and Banks supported the SPLOST move during last week’s board work session.
Board Chairwoman Alison Bartlett of Post 7 south and west of Marietta, Tim Stultz of Post 2 in Smyrna and Kathleen Angelucci of Post 4 in North Cobb, however, voiced concerns about buying down the millage rate with SPLOST money.
The swing vote could be Vice Chairman Scott Sweeney of Post 6 in East Cobb. His comments at the May 11 work session didn’t reveal a preference.
Sweeney has on occasion played the role of swing vote. While he, Bartlett, Stultz and Angelucci have formed a , Sweeney has split with them on some spending matters, as he did last month in at .
Sweeney, Morgan, Crowder-Eagle and Banks gave Addison’s at last week’s work session over the objections of Bartlett, Stultz and Angelucci. Final approval of the budget will come in June.
“The only other option for us is to cut teacher jobs and/or to increase class sizes,” Crowder-Eagle said of the excess SPLOST declaration. “We made this clear to the three board members that this is what we had to do. I just don’t want to balance the budget on the backs of teachers. I’m hopeful we’ll have the votes to pass the final budget and not impact the teachers and not increase class size.”
The board will vote on several contracts using current SPLOST funds.
One is an annual contract with multiple vendors for 317 portable classrooms at a cost of $700,000. SPLOST Chief Administrative Officer Doug Shepard said at last week’s work session that the district has reduced the number of classroom trailers from a peak of 680 about 10 years ago.
Ninety more portable classrooms will be removed by the end of the summer after the completion of the replacement school construction and additions at and high schools and and elementary schools. Shepard said 28 of those 90 trailers will move to for that school’s construction project.
“That was always something important to me, especially elementary students, is getting students out of portables and in the regular building,” Crowder-Eagle said.
Banks said the district isn’t on track to eliminate the trailers.
“The only way you’d get rid of all of them is to have a SPLOST IV, which is very doubtful at this point because the actions of this board have caused distrust and a lack of respect for this board,” he said. The current SPLOST runs through the end of 2013, so a referendum would be needed that year to extend the 1-cent sales tax.
In other SPLOST actions tonight, the board will vote on awarding renovation contracts at Mountain View Elementary for $628,000 to Woodstock’s and at for $1,777,000 to Mableton’s Shirah Contracting.
Tonight’s regular meeting at the Central Office at 514 Glover St. in Marietta starts with public comments at 7.