Cobb Schools SPLOST Plan Taking Shape
The Cobb Board of Education will conduct public hearings this fall to determine whether to call for a referendum in early 2013.
The current Cobb County School District SPLOST collection period is ending at the end of 2013, but plenty of construction and renovation needs remain.
That's why the Cobb Board of Education recently hired an educational consultant to craft a politically salable package of projects that could go to Cobb voters early next year.
On Wednesday the school board heard a progress report from James Wilson, a former Cobb school administrator and retired Fulton County school superintendent, whose Marietta firm, Education Planners, was paid $75,000 to put a proposal together.
The proposed collection period from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2018 is being called "SPLOST IV" after the three special purpose local options sales taxes that have preceeded it, funding a healthy portion of construction and maintenance costs for Cobb schools.
"We want to make sure that when you take this out into the community, it is defendable in every single way," said Wilson, whose firm has examined demographic data, previous SPLOST projects, long-range school facility plans and other documents (see attached PDF for a summary of his presentation to the school board), as well as meeting with school officials.
But after Cobb voters resoundingly rejected the metro Atlanta TSPLOST referendum last month, and barely approved a county government SPLOST in 2011, will they be more receptive to being taxed to fund more school costs?
Would you support extending the Cobb schools SPLOST through 2018? If not, how should the Cobb County School District pay for its capital needs? Tell us in the comments.
Board chairman Scott Sweeney has asked for public hearings to be scheduled in September and October before the board decides whether to call for a referendum, which could take place as early as March 2013.
The Education Planners projections for SPLOST IV anticipate tax collections of $717.8 million, if a referendum is approved by the voters. The current SPLOST III period, which began in 2008, is estimated to collect around $600 million.
Career academies and a new Osborne
The school-specific proposals contained in the SPLOST IV working plan include the creation of two career academies at nearly $30 million each. It also calls for the overhaul of aging Osborne High School at a cost of $33 million, which the Education Planners referred to as a "mirror image" of East Cobb's Wheeler High School, which is undergoing a $17 million renovation project that involves the construction of a new main building.
Proposing elementary school consolidation
The Education Planners report also proposes addressing other older schools, especially those built in the 1950s. They include consolidating a combination of the following elementary schools:
- Belmont Hills, Milford and LaBelle in the Smyrna/Marietta area;
- Harmony Leland in Mableton;
- Eastvalley, Sedalia Park and Powers Ferry in East Cobb, and "additional consideration given to replacing Brumby," which is close to the other three.
Replacing high school gyms and theaters
Wilson said theaters at Harrison, North Cobb, South Cobb, Pope and Wheeler high schools need replacing, as do gymnasiums at Harrison, Lassiter, Walton, Campbell and Wheeler.
Many of those facilities are outdated and/or are too small, having been "built for assumptions of smaller enrollment," Wilson said.
Cobb also "desperately" needs to catch up with meeting Americans with Disabilities Act standards, especially in gyms, Wilson said.
Getting rid of temporary classrooms
Education Planners also is recommending the removal of temporary classrooms at the following schools, some of which have been in use since the 1980s:
- Compton Elementary School in Powder Springs;
- Mt. Bethel, Sope Creek and Tritt elementaries in East Cobb;
- Daniell Middle School in Northeast Cobb.
Staying ahead of the growth
Planning for forthcoming population and employment trends is also one of the objectives of a SPLOST IV, said Wilson, despite what he called "a flat pattern of growth" in Cobb's population for the next five years.
The Cobb school district's enrollment was around 105,000 in 2007 and is anticipated to grow to more than 106,000 by the 2015-16 school year.
But Cobb remains a strong hub for employment growth, in part because of the reputation of a strong school system, and Wilson told the board this factor will pose a significant financial challenge in those years and beyond.
"You'll need to be prepared to house the students who will be coming here," he said.