BoE, try this before calling for a SPLOST

Tue, 08/05/2008 - 3:16pm
By: Letters to the ...

I am usually silent on almost all articles published in The Citizen, but this one takes great exception for me. What is more insulting is the Fayette County Board of Education graciously allotting a whopping two minutes of time to ensure everyone has a chance to speak at the upcoming meeting. I would never be able in two minutes to say anything of value regarding this issue.

We are all intimately familiar with what rising fuel costs have meant to each of us individually. Mine basically doubled, as my fuel tank fill-up went from just below $25 to just right at $50. And I didn’t have the luxury of imposing a fuel surcharge on my employer to offset my rising costs. However, it would seem that FCBOE believes that this is the best way to solve their budget problem.

Please allow me to reintroduce you to some history regarding our current approved SPLOST. The last SPLOST resolution was passed on November 2004, as you may remember. Previously approved SPLOST projects under construction, in design already, or future projects already total more than $3.5 million for Fayetteville alone.

So the already imposed 1 percent sales tax on all transactions made with Fayette County beginning in April of 2005 brings the collected revenue to a total expected tally of $115,857.267 or whatever can be collected by March 31, 2010, whichever comes first.

Keep in mind that not one nickel of this SPLOST money is allocated to the Fayette County School District. Nevertheless, this existing SPLOST is still a financial burden already established on the Fayette taxpayer regardless of the reason or purpose.

The FCBOE is seeking some ideas on dealing with this financial crisis and so I have some simple recommendations that, if implemented, would reduce the financial burden of the school district in lieu of putting into place yet an additional SPLOST called ESPLOST.

1. Trimming the fat — According to the “Why SPLOST?” presentation, more than 88 percent of the overall budget goes to salaries and benefits. This presentation also states that there has already been a decrease in enrollment for 2008.

OK, easy to believe, so take a hard look into bureaucratic reductions, consolidation, and sharing of administration staff, faculty, teachers, and other resources between each school to the maximum extent possible where it makes the most sense. Implement this in such a manner as to prevent the school district from incurring any additional administrative overhead to administer. For goodness sake, another director or coordinator is not at all what we need.

When reading the articles in the newspaper about the proposed ESPLOST, did you notice any staff reductions at the FCBOE level?

There are 11 director positions, one associate director, eight coordinator positions, two assistant superintendents, one purchasing agent, one comptroller, one superintendent, one deputy superintendent, and one public information specialist.

Not one of these positions is on the “potential cut list” at all. In fact, it is very obvious that the cuts are all well below this level. The cuts primarily involve teaching staff.

It would specifically be because the FCBOE needs a dire marketing campaign for ESPLOST effectively portraying a very grim picture of the situation, thus making it much easier to hammer this special purpose tax hike through the voters.

Mr. DeCotis, I would strongly suggest you start right at your level and look at cuts at the FCBOE first. I would advocate the elimination of any of the coordinators or director positions long before we eliminate teaching positions.

Why sir, does the school system need a director of exceptional children or for that matter a director of pupil personnel services? How many of these director and coordinator positions could be combined or completely eliminated?

Mr. DeCotis, the questions are, “Is the school district that you are running operating at maximum efficiency and why haven’t the cuts started at your level instead of coming back to the voters for more cash?”

2. Travel control — Implement strict criteria for authorizing any travel and enforce it. Many companies nationwide have reduced or nearly eliminated travel, especially out of state travel. Travel deemed non-value-added or remotely questionable would not be approved. This includes travel from the FCBOE down to travel for field trips.

There are ways to implement cost savings on travel, maximizing the benefit while controlling or even reducing the overall cost.

Lastly, the use of video teleconferencing would be a viable alternative to many meetings and other events. It is much cheaper a resource than physical travel in many situations.

3. Transportation — Here are a few suggestions for reducing transportation costs:

a. Zoned busing – This is being implemented all over in Florida. First up is no transportation for kids that live within a mile or even a mile and a half of the school they attend. There would be exceptions for children who live in areas that present “hazardous walking” areas.

Next is zoned pickup routes that consolidate the overall bus route down to a few zoned areas where the children get picked up and dropped off.

For example, a subdivision or other residential area that used to have five pickup areas would now have only one or two.

Elimination of extra routes decreases the time and distance travelled over the road, thus providing for less transportation costs and resources overall. A wonderful example of this would be the savings for a school district is Daytona Beach, Fla., reducing bus stops by almost 40 percent and its operating costs by $45.8 million.

b. Altering school days – Yet another creative solution would be to look at altering the overall school schedule to be a four-day school week instead of five. Spread the fifth day’s hours over the four. Adjust the overall class time for each period to accommodate the change in schedule.

If students are normally dismissed at 3:40 p.m. then, for example, they might dismiss at 5:25 p.m. after adding 1.75 hours of instructional time to each of the four days.

This would only be appropriate for the middle and high school folks and would in fact reduce the dependency and resource needs for after-school programs as well. Here again, searching the Internet will produce a list of school systems already implementing or looking to implement such a program.

c. Virtual field trips in lieu of some real ones by making the utmost use of multimedia and other media already available to eliminate field trips that consume fuel.

d. Non-profit fund raising for sports and fine arts programs — These programs around the country are taking the hardest hit as they are deemed non-essentials to a basic education of reading, writing, social sciences (history) and mathematics.

Look into getting corporate and local business sponsorships, donations, or grants. Yes, money is tight, but if it is really that important to the school district and parents then it is time to put your time and money into the effort for your student versus passing the cost to those who don’t have children in the school.

Incidentally, I had two students and now have only one student in the Fayette County School System. If some of these other ideas were implemented in Fayette County, the school district might well have more than sufficient funds to keep or even enhance sports and fine arts.

e. Privatizing food service — Take a serious look into privatizing the food service (i.e., lunches). This enormous component of school management expends and routes valuable time and people power away from the primary mission of the school, which is education. An Internet search will quickly provide a valuable list of school districts around the country already implementing such programs, saving money, and improving the quality of the meals provided. The state of Michigan would be one such example.

f. New buses — The county needs new buses to replace old ones; then let’s be wise about the bus purchases. Fayette County can save operating expenses on the new buses by purchasing diesel buses and operate them on bio-diesel or the purchase of buses already equipped to run on propane.

According to “School Buses Saves Money,” “... propane is such an efficient fuel; the government offers a 50-cent tax credit to school districts that choose to fuel their buses with propane. Gallon for gallon, this can result in cost-savings of up to 50 percent compared with using diesel. North side Independent school district in San Antonio, Texas, saved $226,000 by using this tax credit in 2007, and the Dallas County school system estimates it saves $400,000 annually. This is money that these districts can now use for textbooks, teachers, and other student resources.”

Moreover, this same source cites the additional facts that propane is cleaner than burning petroleum-based diesel and would reduce the greenhouse gases produced from each bus by nearly 20 percent.

Lastly, this same source cites the fact that nearly 90 percent of the current propane supplies are domestically produced.

A shining example of this would be Daytona Beach, Fla. They are already doing this by switching buses to soybean-based biofuel and thus have about $900,000 on fuel savings alone.

So this too begs the question, “Why isn’t the FCBOE looking at these viable methods for reducing and even offsetting the rising fuel costs?” Incidentally, I cannot recall too many instances of more pollution that what I have seen sitting in my vehicle behind a school bus.

4. $10 million dollar aquatic center – This one above all others just makes me livid as a taxpayer and a Fayette County resident. In a time of dwindling economic growth, fuel prices doubling, food costs increasing, an increase in unemployment, an 8 percent loss in residential property value, and what potentially could be the largest tax increase since Herbert Hoover looming on the horizon, how in the world could anyone within the Fayette County government even had the audacity to suggest this?

I can think of 10 million other uses far better than an aquatic center. Here are just a few examples: Servicing that $175.3 million debt with interest, or the 5,700 computers needed, or how about any of the facility renovations?

Could someone on the FCBOE please instruct me as to how a $10 million dollar aquatic center helps students in Fayette County learn reading, writing, or mathematics? No, we don’t need a huge pool to teach children arithmetic.

5. Personal use of school resources – This one is likely to make me very unpopular, but it is an area that we all are fairly certain happens. Granted the overall cost may not be that large, but it is a consumer of taxpayer funds nonetheless. Eliminate personal use of public school supplies and materials. Now, come on! We all know this does happen in many places where people are employed, especially if there are copying machines readily accessible.

And yes, I am certain many don’t wish to acknowledge it, let alone hear it. This is an expense that Fayette County taxpayers should not have to pay.

6. Relocation of warehouse – This is listed as costing $100,000. This is one that I would need to really get a lot more explanation on.

First, why does it have to be relocated? Second, if relocation is not an option then why was this site chosen in the first place? Third, who is doing the relocating and was this put out for competitive bid with some contractual means to ensure that it is completed correctly, without any damage to property, and within a specified timeframe for completion? And fourth, what in the world are we storing?

A move costing a hundred grand of funds just incites a need for a much closer look at this expenditure. Add to this the cost of maintaining and operating said storage facility I am sure isn’t exactly cheap. Do the items being stored warrant the cost of storing them?

7. Textbook adoption – This particular item is one of interest to me, having watched my children bring home nearly 50 pounds of books to do their homework. Two complete sets of books are provided, one for use at school and another at home. In fact, why is the school district still using hardcopy books for this purpose at all?

There should be serious effort to reduce the costs of providing each student with two sets of learning material. With today’s technology, the book set sent home should have options for it being electronic media. In fact, that could avail a host of additional help to students by also providing online and short video recording covering specific aspects of the material.

There would still need to be hardcopy books, but this number would be significantly lower. Implementation of such a program would eliminate damage, wear and tear, and loss of printed text books for those using electronic media.

Another slant on this same concept would be subscription-based training materials that provide the training material from a website (locally implemented and/or publisher implemented) such that a student can log onto the correct website and use the material and training helps online, thus eliminating the need to produce CDs for each student.

Hardcopy material would still be required in the classroom, obviously. The potential for cost savings here should be reason enough to take a good hard look into implementation of such technology.

Surely, I am not the first to float such a concept as subscription-based learning material where school districts would partner with publishers?

So here we are with the FCBOE proposing an additional tax burden on those already paying the bills, thereby doubling the SPLOST with an ESPLOST from 1 percent to 2 percent until the first SPLOST expires.

The FCBOE is also touting a lower millage (property tax) rate with the SPLOST than without it. I don’t care about the lower millage rate, I am not convinced at all that the FCBOE is effectively using the resources we provide already and now they are want more funding.

Hardly an appropriate agenda to be pushing given the current state of our economy and the uneasy feeling I am certain many Fayette County residents have about how good the FCBOE stewards are with the resources they currently have.

Folks, the bottom line here is that I am one person doing a little research with one computer connected to the Internet. I was easily able to provide these ideas in just a few short hours of research.

I would venture a good guess that there are at least four or five dozen additional good ideas that others could derive that could also be easily implemented further reducing the need to tap the Fayette County taxpayer for an addition $115 million on top of the current $115 million the county is already siphoning off [for the transportation tax].

Surely with the education and training that resides with the FCBOE staff, couldn’t they find ways to focus their energies into cutting the current operating costs without the loss of one teaching position while increasing the quality of service to the teachers and students?

Economic times are hard, and it is more than time that the FCBOE and in fact all of government wake up, take inventory, and tighten up their purse strings and belts like the rest of us have to do.

The total combined tax burden to the American taxpayer is out of control, and it is time to make government at all levels fully accountable for the tax dollars they use.

What the FCBOE needs to read, hear, and understand is that the tax well that you wish to go back to is dry, so you’d better get very creative and find other ways to make things work and work better than they do currently.

Lastly, and I repeat myself intentionally, it would be most appropriate for the FCBOE to start looking at their immediate level first before eliminating positions below them.

Bryan W. McMillan

Peachtree City, Ga.

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yardman5508's picture
Submitted by yardman5508 on Wed, 08/06/2008 - 9:43pm.

I particularly like the ideas about alternative fuel buses. In fact, that has been part of the Fayette County Democratic Party local platform for the past year. I think that, politically, that it is time for the voters to start concentrating on the things that we agree on instead of continually harping on the differences between the parties. It is certainly a fact that the Republican Party concentrates on economic concerns while the Democratic Party focuses on social issues, but there ARE points of agreement. And besides, the use of alternative fuels in economically sound, as you stated, and socially conscientious at the same time. Where is the down side. Keep the faith

Democracy is not a spectator sport

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 08/06/2008 - 7:19pm.

I can't convey the respect I have for your well thought answers to our problems.

Can we make you King of Fayette?

All joking aside, if the people getting the money would only take the hour or two to research that you did, not to mention the 3 on our board, how different things would be.

I'm glad Dr Todd stood his ground, or this open discussion wouldn't be taking place.

Again, thanks Dr Todd and thanks Bryan McMillian.

We are lucky to have the Citzen who wouldn't cover this up, Dr Todd, with his, 'not over my dead body attitude!' and Bryan McMillian who is showing how shallow the efforts of the certain people on the board and paid employees with the same objectives.

Hey guys! You are heroes!!!

Submitted by heatjam on Tue, 08/05/2008 - 4:16pm.

I take it that you're not a property owner right? If so, wouldn't you rather be able to write off the tax increase on your 1040? Most of us can't do that with sales tax. Plus, a sales tax increase really hurts Seniors who live on fixed income.

Submitted by Bryan47 on Wed, 08/06/2008 - 5:27pm.

My issue with the SPLOST isn't at all about homeownership it is about good stewardship. Why would I or any other Fayette County resident wish to provide more money to a government run system when they are not maximizing the funds and resources already provided. I am opposed to the FCBOE concept of we can fix anything that ails the school system with more money. So, let us the determine ways to efficiently and effectively cut costs, maximize the dollars they spend to get the most value, right size the FCBOE itself, be very wise about transportation and fuel, and above all else increase the quality of the product they produce (i.e., the student). Once the FCBOE does these things then if additional funds are needed come to the voters, we'll listen.

Submitted by heatjam on Tue, 08/05/2008 - 3:47pm.

You make some great ideas, although I have to comment on 2 things that you said:

"The FCBOE is seeking some ideas on dealing with this financial crisis..."

They aren't seeking ideas on dealing with this financial situation...that's the problem. They think that a SPLOST is the answer and are using scare tactics like job and program cuts to convice people they are right. If the citizen input meeting is any indication (and I hope that it isn't) then their tactic is dead on the money.

"Next is zoned pickup routes that consolidate the overall bus route down to a few zoned areas where the children get picked up and dropped off.

For example, a subdivision or other residential area that used to have five pickup areas would now have only one or two."

Did you live here a few years ago when they cut the bus stops? All **** broke loose when lil Jane & lil Johnny had to walk down a few houses instead of getting picked up at their driveway.

Great letter, all in all, and I hope that the BofE pays attention to it!

Submitted by Bryan47 on Wed, 08/06/2008 - 5:41pm.

It is a sad state of affairs when we as a nation expect the government to fix all our little problems. Even more so when parents cannot provide a little more oversight for their children to make sure they get to and from the bus stops safely. This is probably one example of many where the FCBOE gets mixed signals from our communities.

I seriously doubt that some or even a few of the FCBOE read the article whatsoever. Government personnel have made it a long practice of turning a deaf ear when it goes against their line of thinking and wishes. I hope that the voters read it and seriously reflect on the ideas and content then demand the FCBOE work to implement some of them and even other excellent ideas that folks may have. Wouldn't it be nice if a defeat in November of this proposed SPLOST would send a clear cut message to those who manage and oversight the school district? Isn't it high time to hold the FCBOE accountable for the effective management of our school district even now before the November ballot?

MainframeComputerGuy's picture
Submitted by MainframeComputerGuy on Sat, 08/09/2008 - 11:59pm.

What an incredible number of potential cost saving ideas. Now assuming that the FCBOE hasn't investigated these possibilities, let's hope they actually are going to look for ways to cut expenses other than cutting all these critical teachers like band and crafts -- oh dear me! Actually, I'm being facetious in that I agree with your analysis that we can much more easily do without Directors of "pupil personnel services" and "exceptional children" than teachers. But, like all politicians, they'll go for more visable positions rather than unnecessary administrators. Let's hope enough citizens will say NO to this SPLOST -- at least if they're going to raise our taxes (ala the "Storm Water" ripoff) make it a tax that's deductible.

Oh, and as to buses having more central pickup points -- c'mon, everyone carts their kids to the pickup point anyway, cart 'em a few more blocks!

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