Wake Up and Smell the SPLOST

We are giving away so much money that it is literally bleeding us all dry, and for what? Our schools are a mess, our board is corrupt and our children are failing. Think Yes, but Vote No!

I was recently contacted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution to give my opinion about SPLOST IV (see article here) and before I knew it, I was in the middle of controversy. I guess voicing your own opinion and then backing it up with what you know to be true can sometimes be unpopular, especially when there is money involved. But, I still stand by my position and there are a lot of people out there who agree with me. 

I don't expect everyone to speak out, but I do hope that more people will get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8, so your opinion will actually count. Like all elections, the biggest contributing factor in the upcoming SPLOST IV vote will likely come low voter turnout. Since SPLOST IV is viewed as relevant only to parents of public school children, chances are fairly good that a large portion of voters who could make a difference either do not know about this issue or do not care. And that means they do not intend to vote.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that
matter. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But, if you are concerned about high taxes and mismanagement of your money, it might be time to start paying attention because a good school system can make or break our county. And right now, we need all the help we can get. So, thanks to the Internet, it does not take much time to get caught up on the issues concerning our school system. And, if you really enjoy controversy, I recommend you check out The DeKalb School Watch blog or the website I moderate on behalf of our schools that were selected to receive cell towers courtesy of T-mobile and the DeKalb County School System (DCSS):  Get the Cell Out - Atlanta Chapter.

Think "Yes" (to education), but Vote "No" (on SPLOST IV)

The reason I am comfortable with the "No" on SPLOST is precisely because we know that they have other ways to get the money, such as repealing the homestead exemption for property owners. This option has been positioned very cleverly as being a negative effect of a "No" vote. But, if you consider your options, you might find that it really would not be so bad. For every homeowner, the cost of losing the exemption would be about $57 flat. 

(If SPLOST is not approved then we would lose the $2500 extra homestead exemption that goes against the school levy that we get in DeKalb. The school millage rate is 22.98 mils. 22.98 times $2500 is $57 and change. That's the same no matter the value of your house because the exemption of $2500 is the same for every homeowner. This amount would change only if the millege were to increase.)

So, if you want to look at it on a strictly personal level, do the math. Can you afford a penny on every dollar you spend for a year on everything except food? Or is a one-time, flat cost of $57 per household a better bargain for you?

This could be the wake-up call we need!

And, if you wonder what will happen if you decide to vote "No." The biggest difference is not whether they will get the money. It is only about how they will do it. A "No" to SPLOST IV results in a repeal of the property tax exemption. And that will do one very important thing - it will notify a lot more residents in our county about how bad the problems are in the school system these days. And since property owners are probably more likely to vote as well, these are important people for us to reach so that they might help us elect responsible school board members when it is time to cast our ballots next November.

A continuation of a tax that is already in place without even a short gap of interruption will not only send a message of approval to the current board, but it will also be passed without the majority of our county even realizing that anything has taken place. The current SPLOST funds extend through August 2012 and the tax can be revisited again if we do not pass it on November 8. 

I think it is better to give the new superintendent a clean break from the past while she completes her plans. We should enable her to provide more input into the list of items where the money should be allocated so the money will go to back her plans, not require her to work within the confines of a plan that hasn't worked for us in the past.  

Think Ahead if You Want Real Change

Without bringing attention to the education downslide we are on, we (the parents and teachers) will not be able to influence the other voters when it is time to try to vote out the incumbents who have failed to listen to us and have pursued their own agendas. It is a fact that voters who are unsure of how to vote will typically vote to preserve what is going on now because, even in difficult times, people are inherently afraid of change. We have to motivate them to WANT to change. 

Yes, it might take a short adjustment period where some pain is felt, but it is temporary. If you are concerned about the conditions of the schools, then perhaps you could consider volunteering your time to help. Maybe the PTA or the community at large could help raise funds and organize clean-up or repair days with local volunteers for the most pressing immediate needs that have been neglected by our school board. Our money can be used to directly help the schools, rather than collected and then wasted by administrators who pay their own salaries first before paying teachers and beautify and improve their own surroundings before considering the needs of our children.

We are giving away so much money that it is literally bleeding us all dry, and for what? Our schools are a mess, our board is corrupt and our children are failing.  Money is not the only way to show support for the children. In this case, the good intentions of the public to help our schools has resulted in litigation that must be paid by the fund that would normally pay our teachers. So, by giving more money to SPLOST, we actually took money away from those who are directly responsible for teaching our children.   

Congress will not pass a new law if there is one single line in it that they cannot agree upon. Instead, they will deny it and wait for a better version to come across their desks. If the money is really needed, we do not have to worry about them finding other ways to ask... that is exactly what they will do.  

Don't accept something that is not clearly defined or does not meet your expectations. Do not settle for less than what we deserve. Do not take the abuse of those in power without at least attempting to put your foot down. Because a leopard doesn't change its spots, but a great city and a great county can certainly decline into poverty if we do not speak out now while we still have something left that is worth protecting. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lisa Kuebler October 28, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Hi Cheryl, Everyone is titled to their opinion, and I can certainly respect yours, based on the state of affairs in DCSS as of late. However, I do have a few questions for you. I have attended meetings recently and done research to gain a full understanding of what funding SPLOST IV will or will not do (see my article on this month's TPC meeting), and I think it's important to understand that no, the county does not have another way of getting the money if SPLOST IV doesn't pass. The homestead exemption and the increased millage rates will be enough to (hopefully) finish paying for the construction at Chamblee High School and a few other existing projects, but they will in no way fund all of the projects on the SPLOST IV list, including building new schools for Pleasantdale and Smoke Rise, as well as re-roofing and upgrading the HVAC systems in several other Tucker area schools. Those projects simply will not get done, or will definitely be put on hold for several years, if SPLOST does not pass. In addition, while yes, the school system has misused funds in the past and they have been called on it, we need to recognize that SPLOST money (from SPLOST II and III, I believe, are what built Tucker Middle School and Tucker High School). In addition, you mention that we need to elect responsible school board members when we cast our ballots next November. As it stands now, the ONLY way our school board will be reduced from 9 to 7 members is if SPLOST passes. (more...)
Lisa Kuebler October 28, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Section 2 of Senate Bill 79 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. It doesn't say how or when those reelections will happen, but without the county sales tax used for educational purposes, there is nothing forcing the school board to reduce itself to 7 members and hold elections next year. The legislation is tricky and I'm still working to understand it, and there are rumors that it's going to be reworked, but that's my understanding as of now. I think it's also important that people understand that voting for SPLOST IV is not voting to raise sales tax in DeKalb County, that it's voting to continue the current sales tax, which includes SPLOST III. I have worked to understand all of this, but I'm by no means an expert. I'm hoping that TPC members or other Tucker residents who are more informed will weigh in, as well. Please don't take my comments as telling you to vote yes to SPLOST, either, but more of a plea to our community to read up, understand exactly what it is you're voting for, and to ask questions! There is a lot of information on SPLOST on the DCSS web site, including a complete list of projects that it will fund. I didn't proof my comment above: titled = entitled. Oops!
kristen October 28, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Yes I can smell it and it stinks. The few voters that show up at the polls Nov 8 will vote themselves and everyone else a tax increase just because it is advertised as "For the Children and Our Schools." It is very obvious DeKalb County does not have fiscal responsibility. There is NO REASON why we should hand over any more of our hard earned money. And in this economy, our money is much harder to earn.
Cheryl Miller October 28, 2011 at 03:00 PM
Lisa, I will do some more research on some of the topics you brought up, but my initial thoughts are that it is very unfair for the board to present us with a list of mandatory items (such as code compliance and ADA necessities and leaking roof repairs) and combine that with items that are luxuries when you consider the tough economic times we are facing right now. With the unemployment rate in our area being higher than the national average and so many people barely scraping by, it seems illogical to me that we should be concerned about artifical turf or wireless technology for all schools. Do elementary schools really need videoconferencing? Also, the new schools you mentioned that would not be built, I question why there must be so many brand new schools on this wish list. To me, all this construction sounds like the plan from the former superintendent who is now awaiting trial for this vey thing. There are grants available for rennovation and repair of historic schools (built in 1971 and earlier) and if the new superintendent would start to streamline the central office, I'm sure there would be all kinds of dollars saved that could be budgeted toward many of the things that are asked for under SPLOST. Bottom line for me is that we can wait until next Nov. to decide. The current SPLOST is allocated through Aug. 2012. I think caution is still wise and let the new super. have her chance to ask for the captial improvements that support her plans.
Cheryl Miller October 28, 2011 at 09:13 PM
Does anyone think their boss would approve a one cent raise per dollar earned for every person who works in DeKalb County?
DonWell October 29, 2011 at 02:57 PM
To SPLOST IV naysayers: the reason to vote YES on November 8th lies in the facts. And the facts are out there if you will take the time to research them. The future of education for our children lies in their access to the best we can offer them, and that starts with improved infrastructure. SPLOST IV is about improving the system infrastructure through capital improvements to our existing assets and building new assets to replace antiquated structures. It has long range implications...which means the people who will be voting on November 8th need to have long range vision. Change is happening to our school system, but change to a fat, out of control bureaucracy doesn't happen overnight. It's up to the DeKalb community to insist and oversee changes to the way our school system has operated in the past. But to vote no to SPLOST IV is like shooting yourself in the foot. Do you believe in education? Do you want the best for our children? A YES vote is the only way to go. Here's a post from today's AJC that offers additional insights: http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2011/10/29/former-mayor-shirley-franklin-georgia-must-invest-more-in-its-people/
The Scarlet Pimpernel October 29, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Not everyone has kids, get your money somewhere else
Cheryl Miller November 01, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Maybe someone can explain how artifical turf for 5 football fields is long-range vision for education? Or, why going wireless in a system that already has problems with stolen computers makes sense? OR, videoconferencing for elementary schools? OR building mega-schools when research shows that elementary students perform better in smaller, neighborhood schools instead of large institutions?
Cheryl Miller November 01, 2011 at 02:24 PM
To oppose cell towers in DeKalb County for all schools, please visit www.getthecelloutatl.com to sign the petition. Or, go directly to: www.thepetitionsite.com/1/GTCO-ATL for full text and to include comments to include the name of your school /community. Your name can remain annoymous.
Cheryl Miller November 01, 2011 at 02:26 PM
And here is another view that will catch you up on the misuse of funds from previous SPLOSTs that were supposed to be "for the children." http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2011/10/to-splost-or-not-to-splost.html
Katy November 02, 2011 at 03:35 AM
You keep going back to megaschools, but the fact is, Smoke Rise will be built on its current site to hold 600 students, which is its capacity now. Pleasantdale will be a 900 student school, which it can currently fill. My guess is that the turf and lighting for stadiums are being upgraded for safety reasons. In addition, you're talking about picking and choosing items off the list, and the public did have plenty of opportunity to make their thoughts known on this matter before the list was finalized. There were meetings. Where were naysayers then? Look to the facts: the construction plans were made after thorough on-site facilities audits were done at EVERY school in DeKalb County. The areas of greatest need are the ones on the list. Some schools (I believe there are 6) are in such states of disrepair that the best solution is to rebuild them. Most just need repairs. We complain all the time about the state of education in Georgia and in DeKalb county, yet we refuse to provide schools with the funds necessary to upgrade and upkeep so that they are reasonable learning environments for our children. You pushed so hard to keep cell towers out of schools, a needed source of revenue, and you won -- you kept them off of Brockett's property. Now you're fighting hard to keep the school system from getting much-needed tax revenue. Where will the money come from? How will we improve our children's chances of succeeding in a nation that's leaving Georgia schools behind?
Cheryl Miller November 02, 2011 at 09:22 PM
We have not refused to provide the schools with funds. The board has refused to use the funds for the purposes they were intended. I don't know who convinced you that the problem in DeKalb is a lack of money - in fact we have so much that $100 million a year goes to the state to redistribute to smaller, more rural counties. As for where we could get the money, perhaps we should look at the faulty property appraisals that took place this year. http://www.ajc.com/news/surprisingly-low-property-values-971241.html. Here was my take on it at the time: http://tucker.patch.com/blog_posts/civic-duty-appealing-your-property-tax-assessment. It's surprising that anyone would view my comments as "fighting" when it sounds to me like we are all on the same side - we want a better educational system for our children and financial accountability and transparency from our board. If we could work together, we could really bring about some amazing changes. If we continue to bicker and try to push the needs of one school over another, I'm afraid we will just be doomed to repeat the same mistakes of the past. Isn't there a quote about that being the definition of insanity? Perhaps if we insist on keeping our children stupid, we should welcome the cell towers as well. At least that way they will be sterile, too.
Cheryl Miller November 02, 2011 at 09:27 PM
p.s. I appreciate the attempt to give me the credit for Brockett's removal from the cell tower list, but in reality it was the effort of more than 100 people in the community who were willing to step up quickly, spread the word and send a clear message to the board. What made us different is that we decided to reach out to the other schools that remained on the list to let them know what was going on since our board and most PTAs had not been able to do that. We are making an effort to unite the schools and encourage parents of all incomes, races, backgrounds, etc. to work together to bring about positive change. That's what the "real" friends of DeKalb do for one another. Shout out to Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter and Celebration who have been on this mission far longer than we have.
Cheryl Miller November 03, 2011 at 03:58 PM
A NO vote on SPLOST IV on Nov. 8 does not mean NO forever, it simply means, "not right now." We urge everyone to allow the new Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson to complete her mission to learn about our district and the job she has only had for a couple months now. Rather than agree to extend the sales tax to fund projects that are not a part of her plan (and could possibly be linked to corruption), VOTE NO this time and give her a chance to give us a new perspective on what our schools really need. The current SPLOST funds will not run out until August 2012. And, the board can ask for a NEW SPLOST vote to take place in November 2012. That's only 3 months without the 1 cent tax. We would not expect Dr. Atkinson to totally reinvent the wheel, just provide us with her justification and her plan with changes to the items she determines are not mandatory needs to improve education in DeKalb. So, if you are only voting yes because you see your school is on the list, please think again. If you really need the changes, then you should have nothing to worry about. And, perhaps if your school is in dire need, you might even get a better deal with the changes Dr. Atkinson makes. The point is that we need to support the change, not ask for more of the same. Our children truly do deserve better.
Cheryl Miller November 06, 2011 at 03:24 AM
Make sure you read the comments that came after the article, too. Priceless.
Doctor DeKalb November 11, 2011 at 05:18 AM
Katy, wait and see. You can't count on anything. Why does Smoke Rise need to be torn down and rebuilt, anyway? I've seen it on the outside and I thought it was solid brick, is that right? That's hard to come by these days and very expensive and sustainable. Curious if anyone got a "second opinion" about the need for a total demolition?
Doctor DeKalb November 11, 2011 at 05:20 AM
Where will the kids go while this construction is taking place?
Doctor DeKalb November 11, 2011 at 05:21 AM
How does anyone justify tearing down a $2.2 million addition at Fernbank?
Cheryl Miller March 19, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Please take part in our informal opinion poll on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Get.the.Cell.Out.ATL by 3/20/12. We want to know what everyone thinks about the possibility of having a cell tower on school grounds question on the upcoming ballot to let the school board and county know how the voters feel about the subject. It would not have legal consequences but would send a message. But, are we doing that already and could the idea possibly backfire? It was the suggestion of the committe chairman who held up our bill HB 1197, so we are somewhat wary of where the idea originated. And, uninformed voters tend to say yes to anything education without really understanding the consequences. So, partake in the poll, or leave feedback here. Thanks!


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