On the May 24, 2016 ballot, the DeKalb County School District intends to bring forth a referendum for an Education Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (E-SPLOST) as follows.
Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is an additional penny sales tax levy for capital improvements for schools. Voters can approve or deny the e-SPLOST for five year increments. Since 1997, voters have approved referendums for, four e-SPLOSTs.
Abbreviated referendum – Just Dekalb’s part
Complete 15 page Referendum
History of E-SPLOST in DeKalb
|Date of Vote||Five Year Period||% Yes||% Turnout||Amount|
|I||Mar. 18, 1997||July 1997 –June 2002||68.40%||20.60%||$415|
|II||Mar. 20, 2002||July 2002 –June 2007||61.40%||9.40%||$457|
|III||Mar. 20, 2007||July2007 –June 2012||69.70%||5.40%||$489|
|IV||Nov. 8, 2011||July2012 –June 2017||62.20%||13.90%||$492 (Anticipated)|
|V||24-May-16||July 2017 –June 2022||$500 (Anticipated)|
Proposed Funding Allocation
|Resolution Item||$ millions||Percentage|
|1. Safety and Security||$15||3%|
|2. New Facilities and Additions||$230||46%|
|3. Facility Condition Improvements||$100||20%|
|4. Technology Improvements,incl. ERP||$65||13%|
|5.Buses, Vehicles, and Other Capital Equipment||$40||8%|
|Management and Contingency||$50||10%|
E-SPLOST Project List
Previous E-SPLOST referendums have included a specific list of projects for voters to consider. The current administration is taking a different approach as they ask for voter approval for E-SPLOST V. The administration is not presenting a list of projects, but rather, is indicating the types of projects they intend to fund. If approved, this referendum will not contain any specific commitments to the taxpayers or school communities. Here is the proposed language for the referendum: E-SPLOST Referendum V below.
Regional meetings to discuss potential projects will not be held until after the vote to approve or deny the e-SPLOST. The plan is to hold meetings in September to discuss the project list. The administration is asking the board to discuss the results of those meetings in November and approve the final detailed project list in December.
Paragraph i – Improve Safety and Security
Making of site, facility and technology improvements deemed necessary to improve safety and security, such as enhancing surveillance systems, fire alarms systems, fire sprinkler installation, perimeter fencing, etc. at some or all of the DCSD Schools and Facilities;
Paragraph ii – Creating New Schools
Adding to, modifying, replacing, reconfiguring schools and/or facilities or creating new schools and/or facilities to accommodate current and future student enrollment, develop early childhood centers, enhance regional support of schools, address major facility conditions, and accommodate expanded or new programmatic needs, and acquiring land for constructing and equipping new and/or replacement schools/facilities, or equivalent facility capacity, including, but not limited to, site preparation and the demolition of all or portions of existing structures and/or acquiring leasehold purchasing of facilities/properties as needed based on DeKalb County School District’s determination of need priorities;
Paragraph iii – Renovate and Repair Existing Schools
Adding to, renovating, modifying, reconfiguring, equipping, upgrading, supplementing, acquiring, replacing, and installing capital improvements for various existing and new schools, buildings and facilities (including schools, buildings and facilities to be constructed pursuant to this resolution, once completed and including any site preparation and demolition of existing structures if necessary)–e.g., roofing, plumbing, wiring, painting, water piping, HVAC, making athletic field and physical education facility upgrades and improvements, ADA renovations, infrastructure improvements, repaving, restroom facilities, systems for environmental and air quality control, physical education facilities, kitchens, improvements to comply with health, safety and applicable building codes, traffic control and optimization, parking and parking capacity, storm water management facilities, and program-driven modifications, as needed based on the DeKalb County School District’s determination of need priorities at some or all of the [DeKalb County School District’s] schools and facilities.
Paragraph iv – Technology Improvements
Making technology improvements, by acquiring, replacing, purchasing, installing, upgrading or supplementing technology including, but not limited to: technology that supports and/or enhances instruction, digital communication technology, enhanced school security solutions, wireless technology, enterprise content management solutions, replacement and/or enhancement of technology/systems in support of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) upgrade, data storage systems, telecommunication systems, digital records retention, technology hardware, software, and related infrastructure at some or all of DSCD Schools and Facilities, as needed;
Paragraph v – Replacing School Buses & Equipment
Replacing, purchasing, upgrading, refurbishing or supplementing school buses and support vehicles and other capital equipment as needed including, but not limited to items such as, desks, chairs, tables, instructional equipment, band equipment, kitchen equipment, waste compactors, portable classrooms/modular buildings, custodial equipment, grounds equipment, etc. at some or all of DCSD Schools and Facilities;
GMA Legal Report August 2012 – The Georgia Municipal Association is pleased to provide for municipal officials a discussion of legal and policy considerations relevant to the special purpose local option sales tax.
E-SPLOST Referendum V
The Georgia Attorney General’s office issued an unofficial opinion in 1990 (U90 18) that said the list of projects that appears on a SPLOST resolution need not give the voters a high level of specificity, as the statue governing SPLOST resolution does not require it .
According to the unofficial opinion, “There is no necessity that the description of the purpose or purposes for the tax be in exacting detail. Rather . . . the description and the purposes must be only so specific as to place the electorate on fair notice of the projects to which the tax will be devoted.”
Merely noting the types of projects to be funded, assuming that they are in accord with the types of projects specified by state Code, is sufficient.
So approve it and DCSD will use the bucket of cashon as needed?
I know many will disagree, but I support the idea of not publishing a project list at this time for 2 reasons:
1. The obvious – we will not have areas of the county complaining that they are not “getting” anything; the “North/South” part of the county is getting squeezed, etc., etc.
2. Within the timeframe of this, or any, E-SPLOST, project needs will change. What may have been needed in May of 2016, may not be needed in 2022, and vice-versa.
Just my two-cents.
It is scary to do it this way, but Paula is probably right. esp about changes during the timeline. I will say, though, that communities need to know if relief is on the way in terms of poor quality facilities and/or overcrowding. For kids stuck in crumbling buildings, who have been waiting for SPLOST ___, it is hard to think about not knowing for sure that better bathrooms etc are coming.
Stan, how much of the contigency is going to management fees?
I’m not sure of the breakdown down of the Management and Contingency category.
The City of Dunwoody’s park bonds failed because it lacked specificity. It was just pretty pictures of what could be done with money if approved. The problem here is that DeKalb has a recent history of doing very stupid things, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this passes because it is for “education”.
When the final detailed project list is approved in December, will this become a legal binding document? Or will then school district have the ability to make changes to the project list over the course of time?
For the sake of argument let me say this: in the past we’ve always had specific project lists. I also hear people saying they don’t believe that DCSD has not done a good job with managing capital projects in the past or have built capacity in the wrong parts of the county under the old process. The dimension that makes me question this is how poorly long-term planning serves our public schools.
For example we have enormous capacity all over the county exactly where we do not need it. I believe that this is true in part because projects are committed to so far in advance and with poor information. Wouldn’t the proposed approach allow more leeway to make adjustments on where to invest based on the facts at the time of decision rather than years in advance?
I realize that people are saying they don’t trust the leadership with that leeway but isn’t it necessary to be effective? Surely we can expect the cab County school system to devise a transparent ethical and disciplined decision-making framework for these projects.
Good question: Will the project list voted on in December by the board be legally binding?
Answer: No. The board and administration will be able to modify it at will.
Does the vote add an additional penny on the existing 4? Or is it basically a renewal of 1 penny for the next 5 years?
One more question. Are the specific project lists on the current and earlier SPLOST referendums legally binding?
It is a renewal. If it isn’t renewed, there is an impact on your property taxes (they go up).
The current SPLOST IV sales tax will end in June 2017. The school district is asking to start SPLOST V in July 2017 for a new set of projects.
The list of projects in the current SPLOST IV are legally binding.
LPD, I wouldn’t consider this SPLOST a renewal. It feels like a renewal because it starts right when the last one ends. The new SPLOST V, however, stands on its own. SPLOST is a sales tax and doesn’t directly affect property taxes.
It certainly seems to me that the School Board and the Staff can determine a suitable five year plan. We are not talking that far out in the future. We are talking about capital expenditures here for facilities and infrastructure, not operations. If they cannot come up with a reasonable plan over such a short term, then that is on them.
It is not fair to taxpayers to vote on a wide open no project list. We know how things have worked here, and we need some basic plans and proposals for what projects they intend to do — new builds, renovations, etc. We know that in the past monies have been wasted and have been involved in criminal enterprises by some in the DCSS who were prosecuted. Without at least a list of projects the door is wide open for abuse.
No one is saying some of the plans cannot be changed. But there should be a list and then if they are changed there should be a good rationale for making such changes. The planning folks need some objective parameters and they need to provide us with the proposed projects. That’s just sensible and fiscally responsible.
Does the school system have a list of potential projects at this point?
While they shouldn’t (imo) be legally binding to the ESPLOST referendum, a list of potential projects, triaged by need and urgency, for school facilities across the county would go far in creating faith in the community and voting electorate that the county has the foresight and decision making matrix to spend the ESPLOST pennies wisely, socially responsibly, and efficiently.
JP, The school district did a capital projects needs assessment and came up with a list that totals $2.5B in needs. The following primary data sets will be used to support the development of the detailed project list:
1. Facility Education Adequacy Assessment (FEAA)
2. Facility Conditions Assessment (FCA)
3. School Capacity Reports
4. Enrollment Projections through Fall 2022
5. School Priority Survey Results
I’m told school capacity/enrollment will be given a high enough priority that the Cross Keys Cluster over crowding will make it on the project list. It is undetermined how much weight will be given the various data points that drive which other schools will be addressed via this new E-SPLOST.
I suspect a large part of the reason the school district is presenting a catch-all list is that there is a race-to-the-ballot going on in light of DeKalb County (the non-school government of Interim CEO Lee May and Commissioners) putting a new sales tax penny on the November ballot for infrastructure, and MARTA or its contributing jurisdictions asking for a new .5 cent sales tax. We all know the Cross Keys cluster is in dire need of new schools and has suffered for many decades from lack of care, attention, and respect from its county-wide government and neighbors. I will say Dr. Green has shown himself to be no-nonsense so far and genuinely interested in helping the Cross Keys students who deserve better conditions than they’ve endured. If SPLOST V does nothing else than provide those students with quality school buildings instead of 25 nasty trailers at every elementary school, then all of us should step up to help those kids and continue paying the 1-penny sales tax that has helped other schools like Lakeside HS, Druid Hills HS, Peachtree MS, Dunwoody ES, Fernbank ES, Henderson MS, DSA and DESA, and the list goes on and certainly includes many schools south of I-20.
I will oppose this tax increase. As you know, Dekalb County is also bringing forth a referendum to increase our sales tax rate by 1% to improve our roads. All of this is happening when my property taxes just increased 22% over this past year. And that is not the biggest tax increase in our neighborhood! Assuming that I am in the middle of the pack, it just seems to me that a 22% raise for the County and the School System ought to be enough to fix our roads AND build these schools. The Dekalb County School System already imposes a tax rate of 23.5 mils on its residents – the highest of any County in the State of Georgia. That is 3.5 mils higher than the rate authorized for any other County in the State of Georgia and the 23.5 mil rate was approved as an exception because Dekalb County managed a public college level program. It no longer does that. I was very upset at the way the last SPLOST was managed that allowed money to be spent on projects that stretched the limits of what the taxpayers thought they were getting. I attended that school board meeting wherein a specific SPLOST expenditure was approved by the Board that bought new cars for 23 administrators. I heard the arguments and watched the “slam-dunk” by the Board. There was little presented by administrators to justify that request and there were few questions asked by the Board. As a taxpayer, I left that meeting very upset that my Board representative could be so aloof to the sacrifices made by our people every year.
The people in our community work hard for their money and too much of that money already goes to taxes. It just seems that every time the School System or the County needs to do something like fix roads or build schools, it must come to the taxpayers in Dekalb County to demand even higher taxes. The Dekalb County School System and Dekalb County needs to set their priorities just as most of us do in our homes relative to the resources we have. So much of our money has been wasted by the School System and on Government projects and, for one, I am tired of that and will do everything that I can to stop your demand for even more money. Enough is enough.
lpd – The breakdown between contingency and management fees is 50-50. $25 million is management fees which is $5 million a year.
KG – DCSD has capacity where it is not needed because previous SPLOSTs have been divided to provide nearly equal amounts of money to each board member’s district. That was the primary consideration. The needs of the schools were secondary to that. Hopefully, Dr. Green will see equity as schools getting what they need. Your last statement indicates you are either new to the county or just visiting Stan’s blog. My experience has been the exact opposite of “a transparent ethical and disciplined decision-making framework for these projects.”
Stan – Dan Drake told me the capacity reports are not done yet. The projected enrollments are not done yet, and the Local School Priority Surveys have not been done yet. Everyone needs to know the future capacities are being calculated with the current class sizes, the waiver class sizes. http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/operations/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2015/05/Capacity-Methodology-Guide.pdf That is NOT an appropriate method for planning capital improvements. DCSD should use the state class sizes for planning. Also, what happened to the SPLOST IV Local School Priority Request List? A LSPR list was never voted on by the BOE, but nearly $400,000 has been spent. Another example of not transparent, not following the “rules” of SPLOST, and not ethical.
howdy1942 – I agree with you and will oppose passage of this SPLOST unless there is language added to improve financial management and accountability. Millions of dollars have been mismanaged in SPLOST IV every year. Just look at the Henderson Middle School renovation fiasco. Plans were made without consulting anyone from the school. Those had to be thrown out and everything started over. Then, the “new” plans didn’t address the code violations in the locker rooms (because the consultants missed them and locker rooms weren’t on the project list). So parents had to have a petition drive to get an extra $1 million added to renovate the locker rooms. Why should parents have to fight the district for months to get health and safety code violations addressed when the school is being renovated? The project was supposed to be completed in July of 2015 and construction is just beginning now.
I want to say the Facility Condition Assessments and the Facility Educational Adequacy Assessments have errors in them. I have reviewed each for Midvale Elementary and corrections need to be made, but emails to administrators requesting assistance have not gotten responses. One example of an error is, the computer lab is stated to be on the upper level when it is really in the basement. Another example is, mold is noted to be a problem, but the Learning Environment/Air Quality is rated as “Good.”
Trust has to be earned. Dr. Green has earned my trust with his consistency and thoughtfulness. The people working for him, however, have a long way to go to overcome years of poor decisions, deception, and not telling the truth. As long as those people are putting together SPLOST V, I can not support it.
Kirk – I appreciate your reply and support. My concerns are more basic than just SPLOST. My concerns go to the very heart of the Dekalb County School System Budget. How much have we reduced our legal expenses? We have removed many key administrators from their positions, yet they are still on the payroll – why? (They have simply been moved to other positions in departments such as athletics – why do we need a PhD there?) How are we progressing in reducing the size of our documented administrative bloat as compared to other counties? Have we done an audit of our financials and staffing to see exactly where we are spending our money? Other school districts seem to be doing fine with a lower millage rate – why? Time and again, I have sat through meetings of the school board and listened to presentations by administrators requesting funds – I had so many questions, beginning with documented support for the requests being made. The Board asked very few questions and, in fact, did not seem prepared to ask any – why? In so many cases, they simply approved the requests. We always heard how dire the situation was and that the only way to address the need was more money. Yet, rarely was there any followup to see what the results were. Think about the separation packages that were awarded to just the past four superintendents with little justification or thought given other than to just get the separation done.
I also have a favorable impression of Dr. Green, but he needs to really work hard to get the size of the administration down and the competence level up. Yes, we need to insist on improved financial management and accountability, but I want to see more done toward getting the total financial house in order before considering any new taxes.
Stan, is the board as a whole too hostile toward charter schools to allocate any share of SPLOST funds to start-up charters? Is there any mechanism that could get charters their “fair” share?
Hey Gil, Georgia statute does not provide startup charter schools access to SPLOST funding. The DeKalb Board of Education approved this SPLOST V project list which will be a referendum on the May ballot this year. No startups were on the project list.
There is a mechanism for charter schools to receive ESPLOST funding. See O.C.G.A. § 48-8-144(b). Of course, you would want the ballot language and project list to be broad enough to encompass the projects for charter schools.
Well, the administration left the independent charters off the capital projects list.
From the Georgia Constitution
Paragraph IV. Sales tax for educational purposes.
(b) The purpose or purposes for which the proceeds of the tax are to be used and may be expended include:
(1) Capital outlay projects for educational purposes;
(2) The retirement of previously incurred general obligation debt with respect only to capital outlay projects of the school system; provided, however, that the tax authorized under this Paragraph shall only be expended for the purpose authorized under this subparagraph (b)(2) if all ad valorem property taxes levied or scheduled to be levied prior to the maturity of any such then outstanding general obligation debt to be retired by the proceeds of the tax imposed under this Paragraph shall be reduced by a total amount equal to the total amount of proceeds of the tax imposed under this Paragraph to be applied to retire such bonded indebtedness. In the event of failure to comply with the requirements of this subparagraph (b)(2), as certified by the Department of Revenue, no further funds shall be expended under this subparagraph (b)(2) by such county or independent board of education and all such funds shall be maintained in a separate, restricted account and held solely for the expenditure for future capital outlay projects for educational purposes; or
(3) A combination of the foregoing.
(c) The resolution calling for the imposition of the tax and the ballot question shall each describe:
(1) The specific capital outlay projects to be funded, or the specific debt to be retired, or both, if applicable;
(2) The maximum cost of such project or projects and, if applicable, the maximum amount of debt to be retired, which cost and amount of debt shall also be the maximum amount of net proceeds to be raised by the tax; and
(3) The maximum period of time, to be stated in calendar years or calendar quarters and not to exceed five years.
So. Dekalb County School Administration, which has a less than stellar record with fiscal responsibility, wants me to vote “yes” to give them a blank check book to spend as they choose? No, thank you. If you can give me a specific list of projects you are asking for, then I will consider this. But just hand over money to give to another Pat Pope??? Not again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…shame on me. I’m in agreement with Howdy1942…Dekalb has to prove they are “on the road to recovery” from their previous binges with tax money and put fiscal controls into place to provide transparency.