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Walton Parents Bemoan School Facilities

At a Thursday town hall meeting, Cobb school board chairman Scott Sweeney urged parents to "get behind" efforts to pass a SPLOST extension.

Walton High School parents who've been outspoken recently about aging and cramped facilities took their complaints directly to Cobb school board chairman Scott Sweeney Thursday. 

In the first of several community meetings to detail the Cobb County School District's "SPLOST IV" project list, Sweeney heard an earful, mainly from the parents of students in Walton's acclaimed Fine Arts program. 

The gripes didn't even spare the auditorium where nearly 100 people sat for more than two hours, detailing inadequate space they say has been a festering problem for years at the East Cobb school. 

"This is just not acceptable," said Katie Henderson, a parent in the Walton Drama Booster Club, looking around the 26-year-old theater and holding a thick stack of SPLOST documents on her lap. "The lighting and sound system here are an absolute disgrace."

She wasn't the only parent drawing applause for her remarks, as others rattled off a similar litany of outmoded space for orchestra, choral and band programs, among others. 

Earmarked in the SPLOST IV "notebook" issued to school board members last week was $12 million for a modification of existing orchestral and choral space and a replacement gymnasium at Walton (see attached PDF). 

It's part of a proposed $717 million in estimated funds that would be collected under the fourth one-cent Cobb schools SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), beginning in 2014 and lasting through 2018. 

Parents urged the construction of a new Fine Arts complex as part of a broader master plan for Walton, which opened in 1975 and is the second-largest high school in Cobb with 2,600 students. 

"Walton is a shining star for the county, not just in athletics and academics but also in Fine Arts," said Alan Abrams, co-president of the Walton Band Parents Organziation. "We're concerned if you take a Band-Aid approach, you're just going to prolong the problem."

Sweeney agreed that he didn't want "to put good money after the bad. We want to be smart about how we use our money."

But he also pointed out several times during the meeting that the notebook is a draft document subject to change. 

Board members are expected to decide in November whether to put the SPLOST proposal out for a referendum, which would be held in March 2013.

Sweeney said that the three SPLOST collections thus far have proven to be an effective way to pay for growing capital projects within the 120-school Cobb system. 

If the CCSD were to pay for those expenses through its standard operating budget, the costs would be $143 million a year, or 47 furlough days.

"We want to keep our property taxes low and pay as we go," he said. 

But another Walton parent said he wouldn't vote for SPLOST if other schools received more full-time equivalency funding. 

"Not when we [in East Cobb] already contribute so much," said Mark Graves, who said he received "a glazed look" from school board members when he spoke at last week's work session about the Walton facilities. 

"It's simply not acceptable, time after time."

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