Another take on SPLOST vote: Seven percent of DeKalb voters decided critical issue

DeKalb writer Rick Diguette just sent me this piece on SPLOST, and it seems appropriate to run it now since I posted a letter to voters from the DeKalb school board member earlier today.

According to figures compiled as of Oct. 28, 2011, there are 445,250 registered voters in DeKalb County.1 Seven percent of those voters, or 33,114, have saddled everyone else in the county with a one penny hike in the sales tax.

I happen to be one of the 53,255 voters who went to the polls on November 8 to vote on the SPLOST proposal. Along with 20,140 other DeKalb County residents, I voted against it. If you are into percentages, we represented only five percent of the county’s registered voters.

Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, DeKalb County’s new public school superintendent, had this to say after the election: “We are very pleased the voters of DeKalb County are supportive of our efforts to provide the best facilities and resources for our students.”

To be a tad more accurate, a very small percentage of DeKalb County voters supported this initiative at the polls. And whether SPLOST will actually result in DCSS providing “the best facilities and resources for our students,” only time will tell. If only Dr. Atkinson could guarantee that fraud and financial mismanagement in DCSS are things of the past, I would feel much better. But she can’t make that guarantee. No one can.

If the past tells us anything, fraud and mismanagement will continue to be part of the funding equation in DCSS. Indeed, just as retailers must factor “shrinkage” into their pricing equations, we apparently must be willing to factor fraud and mismanagement into the cost of operating our public school system.

It is worth noting that before the election we were assured that if voters didn’t agree to extend SPLOST for another sixty months, property taxes in DeKalb County would go up—would go up, not might go up. At the same time, however, we were not assured that DCSS would be a better steward of tax revenues going forward.

If we truly get the government we deserve, this is probably why we get it. Our elected officials give us ultimatums bearing directly on our pocketbooks. If we don’t do what they want us to do, then we can expect to feel the pinch. So we go to the polls and vote for something like SPLOST. But all this means is that the pinch will be put off until some time in the future when those same elected officials, or new ones who look and sound very much like the old ones, again threaten us with an increase in our property taxes if we don’t do what they want us to do.

“And,” to quote Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.”

As far as I can tell, fraud and mismanagement are unlikely to disappear from the surface of the earth any time soon. Big piles of public revenue invite itchy fingers, nepotism and backroom deals. They always have and they always will, and not just in DeKalb County. Knowing that, however, never seems to matter when a proposal like SPLOST comes along.

Maybe if more voters exercised their right to make their voices heard at the ballot box, things would change. But as long as seven percent of the county’s voters can impose their will on the rest of us, I’m afraid it will be business as usual for a very long time to come.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

57 comments Add your comment

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

November 23rd, 2011
4:18 pm

I wouldn’t exactly call it “imposing their will” on everyone else. EVERYONE had the opportunity to vote. Apparently, many chose not to take advantage of that opportunity. Sadly, far too many of us shrug voting off as an inconvenience, or something that makes no difference anyway. This is a shame, but can hardly be blamed on the small percent who do exercise their rights.

It many places around the world, citizens do NOT have the ability to vote, and are dying to try and secure that right. Our own history is filled with stories of those who spent their lives (sometimes literally) fighting to give us all the right to vote. We can honor them taking the time to inform ourselves of the issues and VOTE!

Ole Guy

November 23rd, 2011
6:03 pm

Good thoughts, Teach…I am certainly in full agreement with your sympathies. However, lets take a hard look at the hard dangers which face us in light of the INFORMED VOTE. Not too many years ago, the governor of Florida became our National President…not by the time-honored vote, but by, essentially, political appointment. Color that one any way you wish, but that’s the end game. We have seen, many many times throughout recent history, the (so-called) “will of the people” become nothing more than a political hockey puck knocked about by a special interest-controled legislative body intent, not on the (so-called) greater good, but on political appeasment. Is it any wonder, then, that the “power” of the vote has become, for so many, nothing more than an illusion of power.

catlady

November 23rd, 2011
6:33 pm

Ole guy, which governor of Florida became president? Or do you mean governor of Texas, brother of governor of Florida?

Ole Guy

November 23rd, 2011
6:43 pm

It’s always a good idea to proofread those “minor” details, Cat…thanx!

DeKalb parent and taxpayer

November 23rd, 2011
7:43 pm

This piece is full of fallacies and contradictions. First of all, the bit about a small percentage “imposing” its will on everyone else is ridiculous. As others said above, every legally qualified voter could have gone to the polls.

Second, it’s a bit disingenuous to call the SPLOST an “increase” in the sales tax. It’s a continuation of a one cent tax for school capital projects. The DeKalb sales tax rate will be the same when this SPLOST kicks in next year since it is replacing the currently imposed SPLOST.

Third, I don’t get his point about statements that the failure of SPLOST renewal would result in higher property taxes. If the school board has identified capital needs, and its proposed 1 cent SPLOST is disapproved, it will have to seek revenue elsewhere. It’s only option legally is a property tax increase. The issue is HOW to pay for the capital needs, not whether.

Fourth, while it’s true that the former superintendent and his underlings made a mess (to put it mildly) of the current construction projects, what does that have to do with current capital needs? Is the answer to incompetence and corruption by since removed bureaucrats to make kids go to school in decrepit schools? Also, what does it matter what the source of the funds are (sales tax or property tax) in inviting corruption? If the organization is corrupt, it’s corrupt and will steal no matter the source of the money.

The way to deal with the concerns is to vote in new school board members, not vote down the SPLOST.

Dunwoody Mom

November 23rd, 2011
8:00 pm

@DeKalb parent and taxpayer, or should I say “Friends of DeKalb”…if the earlier SPLOST programs had been managed properly and laws not been broken by earlier DCSS administrators and if the BOE had done its duty and properly overseen past Superintendents of DCSS, there would not be 2 BILLION dollars worth needs right now. Don’t you all get tired of this canned spiel? I know I’m tired of hearing it.

WTS1820

November 23rd, 2011
8:16 pm

One member of the Board didn’t drink the SPLOST kool-aid. Jester voted “no” publicly when the board had to approve the list to come before the voters. She made a statement about her concerns at the time.

Chamblee High Alum

November 23rd, 2011
9:08 pm

I know these are tough economic times so if anyone has trouble paying ONE CENT to help rebuild schools for our children, please let me know. I have a jar of pennies in my kitchen that I will gladly share.

ABC

November 23rd, 2011
9:08 pm

No one “imposed” anything on anyone else. People voted or they didn’t, but no one was prevented from making their opinion count. I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the result, but that’s democracy. Would you have rather one person make all decisions for you? There’s a name for that: dictatorship.

tipster

November 23rd, 2011
9:14 pm

Silence (by not voting) is the same as agreement with the vote outcome. If the same percentage of voters had voted, but the results were exactly the opposite, would you still say that the 7 percent were imposing their will on the rest of the taxpayers? Apparently, 88 percent of the registered voters did not feel strongly enough one way or the other on the vote. They were willing to go along with whatever the results were. So, it’s not 7 percent who are imposing their will, it is 95 percent, according to your figures. Only 5 percent were against the SPLOST. That’s a pretty strong majority.

Dunwoody Mom

November 23rd, 2011
9:48 pm

@tipster….Silence IS NOT the same as agreement. Your logic is nonsense.

Writeyourboardmembers

November 23rd, 2011
10:38 pm

I hope the Fernbank community will work as hard to make sure that Gene Walker is defeated as they did for Splost. Somehow I doubt they will. By the way neither Marshall nor Amy would be a good choice

WTS1820

November 23rd, 2011
10:42 pm

@writeyourboardmembers,
Don’t you think Fernbank will want Walker on the board? He’s in their pocket. How right you are about those other two!

Beverly Fraud

November 23rd, 2011
11:05 pm

The basic mistake you are making Chamblee High Alum, is that you think the SPLOST is “for the children”.

NOTHING could be further from the truth. The SPLOST, however it MAY have been intended, is a means of rewarding POLITICAL PATRONAGE, nothing more, nothing less.

@Dekalb taxpayer the way to vote in new school board members is to vote NO for the SPLOST. Whe property taxes get raised as a result, maybe FINALLY the electorate will stop watching X Factor.

But “we the people” don’t do that, so DeKalb as a whole gets the SUBSTANDARD school system it RICHLY and FULLY deserves.

@Writeyourboardmembers

November 23rd, 2011
11:33 pm

It’s my understanding that Fernbank voted FOR Eugene Walker. They helped elect him and he supported themin not bring redistrictied and in getting a new school built. He has delivered for them so why would they not vote for him?

tipster

November 23rd, 2011
11:55 pm

Sorry, Dunwoody Mom, but yes it is. If you want a different outcome, then you speak up (vote). If you sit quietly and let others make the decisions for you, then you are agreeing to those decisions.

DCB

November 24th, 2011
6:51 am

No argument here about how sad it is to experience only a 12% turnout is in the polls – for any opportunity we have to exercise our precious right to vote. But this article and its tone simply spells out sour grapes. Get over it Diguette. Next election work before the fact to impact your desired result.

Buzz144

November 24th, 2011
7:22 am

The education “community” used our tax dollars to put together a slick PR campaign to give up more tax dollars. These are the same people teaching ethics to our kids.

Dunwoody Mom

November 24th, 2011
7:49 am

No sour grapes here. I voted NO with a clear conscience knowing I did the right thing – sending a signal to this school system and BOE that I do not approve of their way of doing business. This school system was once a proud system and one of the top in this state. It has been destroyed and all some care about are brick and mortar and not what goes inside those buildings.

It’s a shame, really.

Dunwoody Mom

November 24th, 2011
8:25 am

Oh and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! I am thankful for the “Get Schooled” blog and DeKalb School Watch. I think we’ve come a long way in our attempts to make school systems and the people that run them accountable for their actions. They can hide no more!

Ponder

November 24th, 2011
8:42 am

On the positive side, I’m ever grateful my wife and I have the means and choice to have our children in private school from K-12. On the negative side, it’s a shame and frustration to see our property tax dollars “wasted” by our “elected” officials. Being a transplant from the west, the design, operations, and resulting problems I see, of at least the Dekalb schools, continue to amaze me.

d

November 24th, 2011
8:51 am

I find it amusing that people think “sending a signal to the board” is an excuse for denying students and teachers in DeKalb of the things they need to be successful. The way you send messages to elected officials is to vote them out of office. Fortunately, the voters of district 7 did that to Zepora Roberts, and although I, as a teacher in the system, disagree with their decision, the voters in district 1 did to Jim Redovian. That sends the message. Unfortunately, the most qualified candidate of the 15 running for any position on the board in 2010 came in last place to Jay Cunningham in district 5. Maybe that’ll change in the next election. Sending a message is fine, but please stop saying a no SPLOST vote was a message.

Dunwoody Mom

November 24th, 2011
9:48 am

@d – how do “bricks and mortars” equate to student success?

Answer: they don’t.

Please do not tell me that my vote was not a message.

d

November 24th, 2011
10:04 am

@Dunwoody Mom Tell that to my students dealing with the “learning village” and the decking that needs to be replaced. The trailers are drafty, the technology isn’t present. In poor weather, they are not safe, Your vote was a vote against the children of DeKalb, not the BOE.

Dunwoody Mom

November 24th, 2011
10:06 am

@d – really, just knock off the “it was a vote against the children”. That is so ridiculous. So, if you school had new decking and no trailers they would perform better in the classroom? I don’t think so.

There are schools that have had many, many trailers for years and still manage to educate their children. There are schools with brand new buildings where student achievement is poor at best.

Just stop with SPLOST was “for the children”. That is a bunch of hooey.

Dunwoody Mom

November 24th, 2011
10:18 am

Were the last 3 SPLOST programs for “the children”? If so, they failed miserably as the student achievement in DCSS has fallen, fallen, fallen.

redweather

November 24th, 2011
11:06 am

Voting against SPLOST was not “an excuse for denying students and teachers in DeKalb of the things they need to be successful.” Rather, it was one way of registering discontent with the way public funds are utilized by DCSS.

Jan

November 24th, 2011
11:23 am

I agree with Ponder. At least I have the resources to opt out of the DeKalb public school system. However, I am no longer amazed at the corruption and deceit in DCSS. I have become inured to it. I did vote again SPLOST, because I want DCSS to know that I do not agree with their politics as usual policies and then lying by calling it “for the children”.

Private School Guy

November 24th, 2011
4:07 pm

I’ve said this before, but like it or not the SPLOSt elections are a rigged game as long as they are held in off years when nothing else is on the ballot. The unfair winning margin is the portion of the 13,000 DeKalb school employees who are DeKalb voters. They will get a better place to work because of the 1% tax. Each election it seems to be a sure thing and the powers that be on BOE and in the Admin offices squeal with delight knowing this game is fixed. The tax payers also have to pay for the cost of the ’special’ election. Voters need to demand that the state change the rules. I’m for school funding but the game needs to be be fair.

d

November 24th, 2011
4:41 pm

@Dunwoody mom and @Redweather – as I said, the proper time to send your message during the BoE election, not during the SPLOST vote.

d

November 24th, 2011
4:51 pm

…. to continue my last thought, there is nothing preventing anyone from going door to door campaigning against Jay Cunningham, Sarah Coplin-Wood, or any of the others that gave the previous leadership the impression that it was ok to do what they did with previous SPLOST funds.

Red Herring

November 24th, 2011
5:05 pm

although anti-tax I am a huge SPLOST supporter. I am in favor of running the state of georgia on sales tax alone and doing away with income tax. this simply spreads the tax burden on all of the states residents while including some tourists or passing thru people. when you mention a “fair tax or flat tax” however liberals run screaming about how it’s the rich taking advantage of the poor. funny how they don’t see that with the lottery and the splost. Sales tax is the most fair tax we have—if you don’t spend the money you don’t pay the tax. the property owners who have no children should not have to fund the majority of the school system while single moms with 3 or 4 children aren’t paying anything. if you really think about it and don’t have a “knee jerk” reaction it makes a lot of sense. before the welfare liberals kick in— consider if you are childless and make 100k a year and purchase 40k worth of taxable goods at 7% you are paying $2800 in taxes—now the single mom with 3 kids making 20k per year might purchase 12k worth of taxable goods and pay 7% which would be $840 –so the 100k taxpayer pays almost 4 times as much and receives non of the benefit of the free education, school meals, welfare, earned income tax credit, etc— there is simply no way that is being unfair. The 100k taxpayer is actually still paying more than their “fair share” and receiving little in the way of benefits compared to the 20k mother of 3. I would hope that more anti-splost people would wake up to the fact that it’s actually helping us regular taxpayers and we should ask for more splost and less property tax…..

d

November 24th, 2011
5:15 pm

@Red Herring – the problem we face with a straight sales tax is that single mom in your example is now paying 4.2% of her income in tax versus the 100k individual paying only 2.8% of his income to the tax. Who (regardless of who uses) is more *able* to pay the tax? The childless individual still benefits from a well-educated population. I find it amusing that people (I don’t know if you’re included or not) think renters don’t pay property tax. Do you really think the land lords are paying the tax out of the kindness of their hearts? Do you really think anyone who goes into a business isn’t paying through higher prices that would otherwise be lowered if say, Perimeter Mall, didn’t have to pay property tax to DeKalb County and the DeKalb County School System?

Dunwoody Mom

November 24th, 2011
5:29 pm

Because spending $30 million on administrative buildings was “for the children”????

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

November 24th, 2011
5:44 pm

@Private school guy….”…rigged game”? “….unfair winning margin”?”…game is fixed”? Suggesting that the only voters were school employees?

What, were there folks with baseball bats at the voting sites keeping regular folks from exercising their right to vote?

EVERYONE had the opportunity to vote… they chose not to. That may make the situation regrettable, but it was hardly “unfair.” How about shifting the responsibility where it belongs, to the non-engaged non-voters.

I didn’t vote in the DeKalb election. Not my district, but it was a one issue vote in my district too, and guess what… I took the time to drive to my local polling site and cast my vote because THAT is part of the responsibility of being a citizen of this country!

redweather

November 24th, 2011
6:06 pm

d–You sound like lawyer. They are fond of telling people that while their point of view has merit, they didn’t express it in the proper forum. As if we need yet another hurdle to jump over!

d

November 24th, 2011
9:29 pm

Not a lawyer, just a teacher in a building with serious technology needs and 18 drafty trailers with decks that needed replacement several years ago. I am, however grateful that we are receiving a much needed renovation to deal with those issues.

Fred

November 24th, 2011
11:03 pm

Sorry. I voted against the SPLOST as did my wife.

Private School Guy

November 25th, 2011
4:52 am

@ I love teaching. – You did not get the drift of my comment. Why is this election held when it is and not when other races are being held? I feel if it were included in an even year general election that the results might be different. From speaking to my teaching peers most vote for it and most vote in the special election. My non teaching friends do no always get down to the polls for this election. While some may favor sales taxes over payroll or property taxes the SPLOST shields BOE officials from having to raise taxes themselves so they get to wash their hands of the matter and have a easier path to reelection. With a 1% tax the public thinks it does not notice being taxed every day. Would a vote to increase property tax pass by the same measure? In addition why do we have to pay for this separate and poorly attended election?

d

November 25th, 2011
7:17 am

@Private School guy – there’s no reason for not having a higher turn out. The early voting period is still several weeks and people can vote absentee by mail with no ID required or reason.

As far as the timing, the next one will come up in 2016. I think there will be more people getting to that one. It’s just because the SPLOST vote occurs every 5 years, so every other one will occur in an off-year.

Larry Major

November 25th, 2011
7:30 am

@Private School Guy, the reason eSPLOST referendums were held this year is because the current eSPLOSTs typically had a five year term and expire next year. Concerning the effect of off-year votes, you and some AJC journalists need to brush up on your political strategy because they very much favor eSPLOST opponents.

Unlike a typical election, there is a widely held expectation that voters will approve an eSPLOST because, historically, they have and by wide margins. It is reasonable to think supporters didn’t bother to vote because they thought the vote would go their way without them. Opponents, lacking expectations or any other reason to stay home, would have voted. For these reasons, the total “no” votes likely represent the total organized eSPLOST opposition, so a higher voter turnout would have resulted in a much wider margin of victory.

Concerning raising property tax as an alternative – that’s basically true, but not for the reasons I’ve seen given here.

Directly replacing projected eSPLOST revenue (calculated using Gwinnett numbers) would require a staggering 7 mil increase. Even in systems currently below the 20 mil maximum, an increase anywhere close to this would require voter approval. A more reasonable alternative would be a bond issue, which also requires voter approval.

Regardless of the path voters decide to take, the local BOE is bound by their decision and can hardly be held accountable for the outcome of a given vote.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 25th, 2011
7:40 am

Chamblee High Alum

November 23rd, 2011
9:08 pm

I will take those pennies. HAND EM OVER!!

tj

November 25th, 2011
9:06 am

@d You, sir, are blowing smoke. So many teachers and the the people running the public schools have done so much to discredit public education that it is some times hard to know where to begin when responding to all of the disinformation out there. I am quite familiar with construction practices in the DeKalb schools. There is so much waste and inefficiency that it is almost incomprehensible. Several years ago there was a high school in south DeKalb, Columbia, or maybe Southwest DeKalb, that could have been entirely rebuilt for all of the money that was spent to renovate it. They had to stop the renovation because they were so far over budget. Old ac units put in as new ones and used kitchen equipment was sold as new. Hours worked were reported wrong. Really unbelievable stuff. This is why the people who create jobs and provide the money are getting fed up with paying for things that are so corrupt. Vouchers can’t get here soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll keep my own children in private schools, thank you. I haven’t encountered many apologists for corruption there.

TC

November 25th, 2011
10:12 am

If SPLOST were defeated, property taxes would have been raised, and 100% of the revenue required would have been paid by Dekalb residents. While I don’t remember the exact figures, I believe that around 30% of SPLOST tax revenue comes from residents of other counties. I would rather pay $70 in sales taxes instead of $100 in property taxes.

If SPLOST were defeated and property taxes were raised, how would oversight and management of capital projects improve? Could it indeed get worse? At least SPLOST projects are approved, and funds can be spent only on approved projects…at least I know where the money is going with SPLOST.

My point is that while past management of SPLOST was in fact criminal, denying funding of SPLOST would do nothing to solve the sins of the past, and little to protect against future sins. Instead, the solution takes more work from all of us: active citizen oversight of the Board and school system executives, and carefully thought votes for school board members.

If things continue to be managed as they have been in the past, then maybe Dekalb residents should consider breaking the school district up into smaller, locally-controlled school districts.

Dunwoody Mom

November 25th, 2011
10:30 am

at least I know where the money is going with SPLOST.

How do you know this? There has never been an audit for the prior SPLOST programs made public. Remember SPLOST III? Where $30 million dollars was taken from school buildings and put into administrative buildings. SPLOST III included $$ for buses and renovations to Chamblee HS. We’ve been told the buses were paid for with Federal dollars. Where did those SPLOST funds go? Chamblee could not be renovated and will be rebuilt via federal bonds to be paid back with SPLOST IV. Where did the money for the CHS renovations go?

To believe that SPLOST funds will be spent properly this time around is a naive pipe dream.

zeke

November 25th, 2011
10:39 am

NO TAX IS EVER A “GOOD” TAX! THROWING MONEY AT THE SCHOOLS HAS YET TO IMPROVE THOSE SCHOOLS! NEVER WILL! SORRY!
BUT, THE SAME APPLIES TO THE NEW MARTA TAX PLAN! OH, YOU CAN CALL IT A TRANSPORTATION TAX, BUT, WITH THE MAJORITY TO BE SPENT ON MARTA OR MARTA TYPE PROJECTS, IT WILL BE AN ENORMOUS FAILURE, AS USUAL!!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 25th, 2011
2:26 pm

TC

November 25th, 2011
10:12 am

Yahoo has MapQuest for that.

“at least I know where the money is going with SPLOST.”

Please tell us.

d

November 25th, 2011
3:06 pm

@tj – believe me, I know exactly what happened in the past under the past administration – an administration where several key members have been indicted for racketeering. Do we continue to punish the students stuck in the trailers because of that leadership who is no longer in place or am I still blowing smoke?

Dunwoody Mom

November 25th, 2011
3:23 pm

@d – you’re still blowing smoke. Voting against SPLOST is not “punishing” the students. Buildings do not equate to student achievement.

d

November 25th, 2011
3:43 pm

@Dunwoody Mom – I’ll tell you what then, go spend a week in one of those trailers, you don’t even have to teach, just be there and tell me how well you think students can learn in that environment. Then you can say I’m still blowing smoke. Oh, and watch out for the tripping hazards just getting into the trailer.