The Tucker Parent Council (TPC) met Monday night at Brockett Elementary to discuss SPLOST IV, which is up for election on the November 8 ballot.
Administrators and parents from all seven Tucker-area schools (Brockett, Idlewood, Livsey, Midvale and Smoke Rise Charter Elementaries as well as Tucker Middle and Tucker High) were in attendance. SPLOST IV is the proposed 1 penny consumption (sales) tax that would be used for funding capital improvements in DeKalb county schools (including DeKalb County School System [DCSS], City of Decatur Schools, and the area of Atlanta Public Schools that falls within the DeKalb county lines).
Dan Drake, Director of Planning and Forecasting for DCSS, and Barbara Colman, Interim CIP Officer for DCSS, as well as Michelle Penkava, a Livsey parent and representative from the Friends of DeKalb Education group, presented information to the group of roughly 45 attendees.
Following a brief introduction by TPC President Larry Donroe-Wells, Colman presented background information on SPLOST. The tax has been in use in DeKalb County for the last 14 years and has been used for capital improvements and new construction of schools, including the new Tucker High School as well as the current construction project at Chamblee High School.
According to Colman, following the complete facilities audits that were performed as part of the redistricting process last year, $2.2 billion in renovation and replacement needs have been documented in DeKalb schools.
On June 6, the Board of Education approved a 5-year, $475 million project list, including the replacement of six elementary schools (Smoke Rise and Pleasantdale among them). Other items on the list include roofs and HVAC units at several schools, as well as renovations to stadium turf and lighting, security systems, technology improvements, ADA compliance renovations, buses and service vehicles, and local school priority requests (requests made by principals for individual schools).
Following questions from the crowd concerning checks and balances, as well as transparency in spending, DCSS Board member Paul Womack spoke on the legitimate use of funds, stating that if SPLOST IV passes, the school board is absolutely limited to the $475 million budget and that the improvement list is ingrained in law and can’t be altered in any way. He then remarked on the fact that spending for SPLOST III is currently coming in under budget.
Womack then went on to say that “if SPLOST IV passes, the school board is reduced from nine to seven members,” and that if he were one of the two to go, “so be it.” He was referring to Section 2 of Senate Bill 79, which states that in counties that collect both homestead option sales and use tax AND a county sales and use tax for educational purposes, the boards of education shall consist of seven members elected from single-member districts of approximately equal population that will serve in staggered, four-year terms of office.
Colman then spoke further on the checks and balances being put into place at the DCSS central office. She spoke of an internal auditor, an ethics hotline, and an attorney from the state office that reviews documents prior to superintendent approval.
“Your dollars are in good hands, believe me,” Womack said, speaking on behalf of Colman’s professionalism and experience.
When a question was raised alluding to the SPLOST III money spent on chairs for the central office, Colman stated that the Sam Moss Service Center off Montreal Road is the only non-school building slated for capital improvements under SPLOST IV (the improvements it’s slated for are all roof-related).
Michelle Penkava then spoke on what SPLOST IV specifically means for parents and schools, particularly in the Tucker area. “It is critical that parents and neighbors know that the Tucker High and Tucker Middle buildings were paid for with SPLOST dollars,” she said, as well as the gymnasiums that have been constructed at all of the elementary schools. (HVAC units for all of those gymnasiums are on the list of SPLOST IV improvements.) In addition, Penkava said, schools that don’t have wireless access will get it, and every classroom will have a promethean board.
She also pointed out that approving SPLOST IV is not approving a tax increase. It’s approving a continuation of a tax that is already there. In addition, Womack pointed out, 30 percent of the SPLOST money usually comes from people outside the county who come here to shop.
Penkava then went on to say that voters should not assume that if SPLOST IV does not pass this year, that it will come back up for vote next year. “Next year,” she said, “the transportation tax is up for vote, and they won’t put the education SPLOST on the ballot against that.”
Another point she made is that if SPLOST doesn’t pass, the homestead exemption tax credit ($2600) will disappear, and property taxes will go up by 2.02 mils. This money, though, will not fund the projects on the SPLOST IV proposal. This will go to finish construction of Chamblee High School and a few ongoing projects, and the SPLOST IV proposals will not get funded.
While the DeKalb School Watch Blog has been largely outspoken against SPLOST IV, the Tucker Parent Council members spoke mostly in favor of SPLOST. On the list of improvements are a new school for Pleasantdale Elementary (roughly 900 capacity) and for Smoke Rise Elementary (600 capacity). While many constituents have expressed the belief that voting down SPLOST will prevent further redistricting, several parents in attendance spoke of their belief that if SPLOST does not pass, it will actually result in more redistricting for the Tucker/Northlake area as Pleasantdale and even Idlewood Elementary continue to face overcrowding issues (and Livsey and nearby Evansdale are now also overcrowded as a result of last year's attempt to alleviate overcrowding at Pleasantdale). Without new construction, more trailers will likely be brought in, and students will again be shuffled.