NO on E-SPLOST – Here's Why

Stan Jester
DeKalb County
Board Of Education

Board of Education Rep Jim McMahan and I voted NO on the Education SPLOST (E-SPLOST) referendum. Commissioner Jester says to vote NO on E-SPLOST and here’s why.
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Commissioner Nancy Jester

NO on E-SPLOST – Here’s Why
By: Nancy Jester, DeKalb County Commissioner

On May 24th voters across DeKalb will see an e-SPLOST referendum on their ballot. If approved, it will be the fifth, 5-year e-SPLOST program for DeKalb County School District. What have we gotten for the almost $2 billion, over 20 years, of the e-SPLOST program? What can we expect from an e-SPLOST V?
I was on the Board of Education when e-SPLOST IV was designed and won approval. I voted NO as a Board member to even take the referendum to the voters because the design was based on inaccurate assumptions and did not address the growing capacity needs of the district. I warned in 2011 that we were sentencing over a generation of children to attend schools in trailers for their entire school career.
I specifically asked that a new elementary school be built along the Buford Highway Corridor. I asked for the district to add capacity to the Dunwoody cluster, where elementary school trailers have been sitting for more than a decade, the middle school was built too small over parent objections in e-SPLOST III, and the high school isn’t prepared for the growing number of classrooms it will soon need.
I see a pattern in past e-SPLOSTs that left children, teachers, and taxpayers worse-off in aggregate despite the almost $2 billion we all paid to improve and expand our county’s schools. This pattern has existed across multiple superintendents. Despite the spending and relatively stable student population (hovering around +/-100K students), the use of trailers has grown over the years. The building needs also grow over the years because of your assets receive almost no maintenance and care.
All the spending to improve the learning environment has done little to improve academic aggregate outcomes in DeKalb. In addition to the poor aggregate achievement levels in DeKalb Schools, the one other consistent feature of the district has been the administrative staff. Yes, each new superintendent has brought in a few new people. Some of them have been a welcome change. Unfortunately, the district is plagued by the quiet undercurrent of perennial administrators that have been influential across multiple superintendents. And, no one should be shocked to learn that the exact same two outside consulting firms that brought you the last e-SPLOST debacle are also providing the guidance for e-SPLOST V.
These same failed administrators are now quietly advising the new superintendent behind the scenes and designing e-SPLOST V. Why should we expect anything different from the same people who have been so consistently incompetent, wrong, and biased? On what basis could anyone believe they should be the architects of the next e-SPLOST program? There’s a word for doing the same thing and expecting different results.
I call the current approach for e-SPLOST V, the “Kitchen Sink” referendum. Every school in DeKalb is listed as a potential for everything. The message:
“Vote for e-SPLOST V because you might get a new school. Or you might get an upgrade. Or nothing. But you have to play to find out. Go ahead, spin the wheel, and let’s see what DeKalb has in store for you. What could go wrong? And remember – It’s for the children.”
Yep, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink language right onto your May 24th ballot. The usual list of naïve and political operators are out there trying to rally support for this ridiculous referendum. There are the Charlie Browns who keep trying to kick that ball even as the rest of us know Lucy is going to yank that ball away every time. There’s the shrewd political types who received promises behind closed doors that their interests will be protected.
Hope is not a method and backroom deals are proof that e-SPLOST has never been about children. It certainly has never even been as simple as trying to put permanent roofs over our students’ heads. It’s been run by the same people with the same failed track record for years.
DeKalb Schools have seen their operating and capital coffers swell with your money as the economy has recovered. Very little has trickled down to the classroom. With all the resources that are at hand, their shouldn’t be a leaky roof, a broken HVAC system, moldy ceiling tiles, or the need for parents to send in basic cleaning supplies. But, sadly, these situations remain.
It needs to be stated and discussed that the school district has morphed, e-SPLOST, into a maintenance program as well. Even worse, the district spends your taxes on new capital projects that it doesn’t maintain. The school district should be dedicating millage to maintenance so that this cost is not shifted to an e-SPLOST program. This protects your investment.
• Until the school district replaces the failed administrators that have brought us to this low point;
• Until the school district gives us a concrete schedule of building projects for e-SPLOST V;
• Until the school district ends it’s opaque, uncooperative attitude, until the school district properly attends to the maintenance of the assets it already has;
Just say NO to this tax. The district will only make change when the spigot is turned off for a while. I’m voting no until the school district cleans up its act and gives me a firm project list. To vote otherwise is to embolden the incompetent bureaucrats who have brought you here and enable the continued trend of putting special, political interests ahead of what is in the best interests of children and taxpayers.

Key Stakeholder Meeting Dates
March – June: public meetings on Secondary School Facility Planning and Feasibility Study
July – September: Public meetings on systems and proposed project selection criteria
September: Five regional meetings to discuss draft of project list
Nov. 5: DeKalb Board of Education to discuss detailed project list and schedule
Dec. 7: Board is expected to approve final project list
July 1, 2017: Sales tax collections begin
E-SPLOST history in DeKalb County
The school sales tax has been approved each time it has been voted on since 1997
Where the money went
1997-2002: ($415 million) Constructed ten new schools; added multipurpose buildings at each elementary school; modified existing facilities
2002-2007: ($457 million) Constructed 11 new schools; made modifications across the district including major renovations of ten middle/high schools
2007-2012: ($489 million) Replaced one high school; provided 12 major renovations/additions, and 140 minor renovations
2012-2017: (est. $492 million) Replaced seven elementary schools and two middle/high schools; provided five major renovations/additions; made stadium improvements, technology upgrades, school bus purchases, and capital renewal of many facilities

14 responses to “NO on E-SPLOST – Here's Why

  1. Hi Nancy,
    While I agree with your article in the underlying sentiment about central administrators and the state of some of our schools, I do not agree with all of your observations. I visit many elementary schools in Dekalb County in my role as a parent and afterschool enrichment provider for the ASEDP (over 25 schools in the past year). Yes, there are schools with neglected bathroom facilities – rusted stalls and paper towel dispensers, dysfunctional sinks, and such, but there are also schools with beautiful new buildings and landscaping. These schools, such as Chamblee Charter High School and Dunwoody Elementary School,, among others, could not have been completed without ESPLOST money. There are many other examples of how ESPLOST funds have been spent to benefit our children. Please do not throw the babies out with the bathwater. If not ESPLOST, then what? Do you have another idea for how our schools can receive additional funding to continue to improve?

  2. 20 years of ESPLOST and the district will have approximately 400 trailers next August.

  3. dekalbobserver

    You make a better case for getting rid of ” failed administrators”, not the ESPLOST.

  4. I agree DEKALB observe. Get rid of failed administrators and teachers.

  5. Robert Morris

    I have been torn by this issue. On the one hand, I know that there are capital improvements that are needed in Dekalb’s schools. We have too many classes meeting in trailers, too many leaking school roofs, and student populations that need either new or renovated facilities. On the other hand, I have a very long memory and still get angry when the provisions of the current SPLOST IV were “stretched” to buy administrators new cars at the depths of the last recession. That was the very first vote of the school board consisting of six members appointed by Governor Deal. Until Superintendent Green and this School Board provide a listing of the specific projects that they want to fund and until they can give assurance that the new SPLOST funds will be dedicated strictly to renovate, fix, or construct school buildings or grounds and that no funds will be used for any administrator’s “need”, I will oppose SPLOST.

  6. If the Board believes that additional taxes are necessary to address deficits within our school system then it would follow that a list of these problem areas has been constructed along with estimates of the cost for each issue identified. If this list has not been constructed then the SPLOST should be defeated because the Board has failed to justify an increase in funding. If the list has been constructed then the lack of transparency as to what our money will be used for should result in the SPLOST being defeated. I do not trust the DeKalb County Board of Education to determine how my money will be spent without justifying their rationale for additional funds and to receive input from the community on those plans. Once again, the BOE receives a failing grade for their collective lack of common business sense and accountability. I will oppose SPLOST.

  7. dekalbteacher

    City Schools of Decatur specifies this expenditure: acquire/maintain buses. Dekalb describes its transportation expenditure as purchasing buses, vehicles, and other capital equipment. Anyone else see the problem? As students’ buses continue to arrive to school late and as students continue to sit in over-crowded classes, Dekalb’s adults will continue to drive or to arrive in new vehicles and sit in spacious offices.
    The tax will pass, though, because people in Decatur tend to trust that the money they are spending is being spent to improve students’ educational experiences-not adults’ working experiences.

  8. Steve Bancroft

    I hope you are not including Stacy Stepney in your list of “failed administrators”. I’m not even sure if she is still with the county. I do know many of us were just sick when she was removed from the principal job at Dunwoody High School a few years ago and moved to the central office. She was an excellent administrator at the school- as sharp as they come.

  9. Fran Millar

    The school system is prohibited from lobbying for a Splost. You decide based on this.

    “Dekalb schools has printed up full color stickers to promote the esplost referendum Tuesday.! Our Dekalb Supt. Steven Green has directed all teachers to wear them AND hand them out to all children Monday. I’m a teacher in Dekalb and a resident against renewing this tax. This is unethical to ask employees to promote it and I wanted to share how your tax dollars are being spent and your new superintendent’s ethics. Vote NO. The school buildings are in poor shape and problems have been ignored for years. $2 billion hasn’t yielded much bang for the buck because there is too much waste – still.Shared with Chamblee Dunwoody + 32 nearby neighborhoods in General”

  10. Nancy Jester

    DCSD used our tax dollars for stickers to put on our children to “remind” us that they want to continue to receive more of our money. Nice. Children being used in this way is beyond unethical. Did I miss the school district reminding me to vote in any other election or participate in other civic duties? Why don’t they buy stickers that say “Read with me, Mom and Dad.”?

  11. Stan Jester

    The school district put out these Common Sense Guidelines for Ethics Compliance
    In light of the pending election, it is extremely important that District employees know and comply with the provisions of Georgia’s Ethics in Government Act. This Act allows certain activities, but prohibits others, for an “issue campaign” such as the extension of the E-SPLOST. This information is intended to help employees distinguish between permissible and prohibited activity.
    1. DeKalb County School District (DCSD) and its employees have the right and the obligation to ensure that voters understand E-SPLOST and DCSD capital improvement and technology needs. However, DCSD must provide informational materials ONLY. Under no circumstances may DCSD or its employees produce materials that could in any way be perceived as promotional materials or campaign literature.
    2. Only private resources can be used to promote or oppose the E-SPLOST referendum. An independent (Political Action Committee) formed to campaign for passage of the E-SPLOST. This independent Committee raises private funds to pay for its promotional activities and does use public/funds or resources to pay for its activities, because public funds/resources MAY NOT be used for this purpose. Public resources include, but are not limited to: DCSD email; District or school websites; newsletters; facilities; copy machines and paper; phones; computers and audiovisual equipment; District vehicles; employee time during work hours or when serving in a capacity as an employee after work hours.
    3. Campaign literature, signs, or promotional materials MAY NOT be displayed or distributed on school property. Employees may not wear campaign pins or stickers on school grounds, or distribute campaign materials on school premises.
    a. This restriction would prohibit providing students, parents, guardians, etc. with PTA newsletters that contain promotional articles rather than purely informational content.
    b. It IS permissible for schools to use school marquees or other communication vehicles as a reminder to citizens to vote on Election Day. (The signs may not encourage them to “vote yes” or otherwise encourage support for the E-SPLOST.)
    c. Also, it IS permissible for principals to remind teachers and staff about Election Day, and to provide them ample opportunity to vote.
    d. Employees MAY place on their personal vehicles signs or bumper stickers that promote passage of the E-SPLOST, even if driven to work.
    4. Employees MAY work to promote or oppose the E-SPLOST referendum – but ONLY as private citizens on their own time. Employees have the same civic responsibilities and privileges as any other citizen, including the privilege of campaigning for and actively supporting candidates and causes in the political arena. An employee’s political activities must not interfere or conflict with an employee’s job or with the best interest of the school district.

  12. 1st Year Teacher in Dekalb

    Mr. Jester,
    So, does this mean the directive for teachers to wear the E-SPLOST sticker pictured above is in direct violation of Georgia’s Ethics in Government Act? Will there be any repercussions???
    I was already voting “No” and have encouraged my neighbors and friends to vote “No” to E-SPLOST. Sorry, Dr. Green, the history of Dekalb’s mismanagement of funds is thoroughly documented here and on the retired Dekalb School Watch blog. Spending even more school system money on unethical propaganda is not helping matters.

  13. Stan Jester

    The stickers, robo-calls, pamphlets, using children as billboards, etc … would be in direct violation if any of them said vote yes or vote no. Unless it is adjudicated, there will be no repercussions. The administration put it out and a majority of the county and board of education approve.
    The DeKalb County School District added 6 new schools to the Governor’s Opportunity School District list of failing schools. I would like the money spent advertising E-SPLOST to have gone into the classroom.

  14. In SPLOST IV, the list included a pot of money for Local School Priority Requests. When SPLOST IV passed, all principals were asked to identify their local school priority requests. They were told the requests could not be items like paint and carpet – that they needed to be related to security, life safety, etc and that 60-65 schools would receive funds not to exceed $50,000 at any one school. Principals never heard if their school would receive any funds for their priorities and the district was silent on how the funds would be used. In April 2015, Joshua Williams, the COO of DCSD, recommended and this sitting board approved, the Local School Priority funds be used for custodial equipment and cleaning supplies…this is the Joshua Williams who was implicated in a whistleblower complaint about inappropriate actions related to SPLOST contracts – DCSD settled out of court. He is still working for Dr. Green. I would give Dr. Green a chance if he had brought in a new COO but he chose not to do that – it’s the same COO and admin. staff running SPLOST and the same BOE voting on the administration’s recommendations. And there is an even more vague list for SPLOST V. If DCSD could twist the LSPR funds that way, imagine what they will do with the pots of money lumped into these very broad categories. My family will vote NO.