File’s write-in candidacy born of concern over school tax hike, proposed SPLOST

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 3:53pm
By: Ben Nelms

Nicole File

Most people would not mount an organized write-in campaign for elected office. But that is what Peachtree City resident Nicole File is doing.

File on Aug. 29 announced her intention to run against incumbent Janet Smola Nov. 4 for Fayette County Board of Education Post 1.

The recent millage rate increase and school board’s inclusion of a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) initiative on the November ballot were the events, she said, that triggered her her decision to unseat Smola.

The 10-year Fayette resident lived in Fayetteville for six years and has lived in Peachtree City for the past four. File said Monday she is not deterred by running as a write-in candidate, adding that she is complying with the required process outlined by Fayette County Elections Division.

Referencing the increase in the Maintenance & Operation millage from 18.596 mills to 19.75 and the increase in the bond debt millage from 3.55 to 4.17 mills, she said even though the millage increase guarantees increased funding, that increase in tax revenue may not have been needed if the board had saved for a rainy day over the years.

“I am never a proponent of raising taxes. That is the last thing we should do. We should always try to find dollars internally before going to the taxpayers,” File said.

“Our money has not been spent wisely. Our tax base has grown over the last eight years by 72 percent. And I want to know why we weren’t saving for a rainy day. Why were we not putting money away?” File said.

“Our taxes have been increased now by $8.2 million. If we had been saving $1 million a year, and that’s a drop in the bucket for a $200 million corporation, then we would not have had to raise the millage rate. We have been dipping into the reserve account and spending freely without planning for that rainy day,” File said.

File also questioned the school board’s recent decision to include a SPLOST initiative on the November ballot to fund a host of needs such as technology, bus and textbook purchases, security and debt service on the bond.

The manner and timing with which the SPLOST was approved for a vote does not live up to the openness, transparency and spirit of cooperation with the public that should be at the forefront of all board decisions and actions, File said.

“SPLOST was brought up in July. You’re asking the taxpayers for an incredible amount of money, $20 million a year, that they’re going to be taxed. Yes, it’s just one penny on each dollar, and it doesn’t seem like much, but over the five-year period, it adds up,” File said.

“I feel like it was politically convenient for the school board to bring up SPLOST in July after they had secured their seats in the primary election. That’s another indicator to me that the school board is not operating in the most open way.”

File said her priorities are open government and fiscal accountability. In terms of meeting its obligations to the public, File again likened the school board’s responsibilities to that of a corporation.

“I’m an advocate for open government. I believe the Fayette County School System is a public corporation and we, as county taxpayers, are stockholders in the school system. I believe there is an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality, a kind of bunker mentality that developed over the years,” she said.

“I want to know when it got to the point that it became us, the taxpayers, against the people running the school system that we elect, the people that are supposed to be serving us and our children. Taxpayers deserve full disclosure in the form of well-documented meetings and open records.”

File said she believes the school board should not be asking taxpayers for maximum flexibility. The board should be showing taxpayers how they can best support students in a time of belt-tightening, she said.

“My family has a budget that we have to live on. As a result of that we’ve had to cut back in areas. One of the things I do is make cheaper meals at home, and I use the money I save to put gas in the gas tank. And some of the things we used to do, now we do without,” File said.

“I want to see the school system find a way to tighten their belt instead of sticking it to the taxpayers,” she said. “The cash cow of Fayette County has stopped giving milk with the lack of population growth. I want to know why no one was preparing for a rainy day. Our enrollment over the last eight years grew by 19 percent but our system-wide expenses grew by 45 percent.”

File suggested that an easy way for the school system to exemplify open government would be to keep better meeting minutes. Requests such as Open Meeting Law requests should be complied with immediately and without delay. File cited a recent request where the the school system attorney responded saying a cost of approximately $2,000 in staff time and other costs would be required to comply.

“These are taxpayers, stockholders in the school system, that are not getting the information they want. Instead, they get a letter from the school board attorney,” said File.

“And that’s an intimidating thing. It disturbs me that people can’t get their hands on documents that are legally theirs. We have a lot invested in this community and in this school system. I just wonder if the ($2,000) sum of money is used to intimidate somebody. This is symptomatic of the last couple of years where I’ve noticed (the school board) is a closed body and you never quite know what’s going on.”

In her view of school board business that cover the past several years, File questioned the rationale that led to decisions she said ran afoul of fiscal and public accountability.

“I’ve been watching the Fayette County School Board for the past few years. You cannot study something for this long and not see some fundamental flaws in the way they’re operating. This includes land deals where we’re buying too much land that we don’t need in places where there are not enough children, or when we pay consultants when we admit we don’t have the expertise and then, all of a sudden, the plans he came up with are scrapped and we do our own thing anyway,” she said.

“Who’s watching the purse? We’re building a $10 million school for students who are not there. All the footprints for our schools were planned for 800 (students). The capacity for (Rivers Elementary) is 675. We downsized Inman Road. We’re building schools we don’t need,” File said.

“At any time the school board could have called three public meetings to re-purpose that ($10 million) to spend it on things like technology or new buses or computers. Yet we’re building a school right now that we don’t need and cannot populate.”

Underlying the impetus for her decision to mount a write-in campaign was something personal, a foundational perspective that speaks to the heart of personal responsibility.

“There comes a time in a person’s life when they have to stand up for what they believe in. And for me, that time is now. I’ve lived by a moral code and I can no longer stand by with the things I’ve watched over the last few years, like the debacle every time we go to a re-districting, with money not being spent prudently,” File said.

“I’m a common sense person, and common sense is in short supply right now. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I just want it to turn in a more efficient way. We have to spend our money wisely. (The board) has to tighten their belts and think outside the box to find a better way to provide a service that we already provide.”

File was trained as a teacher and graduated from James Madison University in 1992. She is active as a volunteer in church, PTO and sports and served as a program manager for the USO in Okinawa, Japan, before moving to the area. Her husband Jay works with Chick-fil-A in the company’s corporate office. File has three children, of which two attend Fayette public schools and one attends a private school.

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Submitted by sas on Wed, 09/03/2008 - 9:29pm.

My youngest is a junior in college, our children were in private schools growing up. We paid the taxes without the benefits, but do not complain or begrudge the money we have paid for the last 28 years. I did not complain because it was our choice to not use the public school system in PTC. However, I am tired of the taxpayers being taken advantage of, and thank Nicole for her stand on this situation. You have our votes!

gelato's picture
Submitted by gelato on Tue, 09/02/2008 - 9:26pm.

In reading your platform I noticed there was something missing: arrogance and a hidden agenda! I definitely agree with your conception that the FCBOE is a public corporation, and I am so very tired of the closed door decisions which have been made by some of the self-serving BOE members. How right you are that they never thought of a rainy day. I am tired of being nickled and dimed by the FCBOE. I admire your zeal and passion for what is right; and as far as I am concerned what is right at the moment is to remove Smola, and make the FCBOE accountable to all! Thanks for your willingness to face the monster the FCBOE has become! F I L E, an easy name to write in - you'll definitely be a winner!

Voice of Fayette Future's picture
Submitted by Voice of Fayett... on Tue, 09/02/2008 - 8:17pm.

In 1995 Developer Jim Pace announced he was running for City Council. He joined a couple clubs, going in the front door and walking our the back door after the election. He worked the Planning Department on his projects like a Stradivarius.

Right before the election he had a write-in opponent in the PTC election. There were no contested races AT ALL on the ballot. THE WRITE-IN CHALLENGER STILL GOT 42 % OF THE VOTE !!! Ms. File can do it.

Submitted by FedUpwFCBOE on Tue, 09/02/2008 - 6:20pm.

We moved here from Coweta for the schools, something we have been regretting for years. It's time they are held accountable. If we ran our households like they run the school system, we would be bankrupt. They are full of secrets(just ask them about the janitor from Cleveland Elmentary) and the districts are so obviously manipulated so that the school board members are in the districts that they want to be. We live in Stonebriar off of Lester Road and were originally districted into Whitewater High School, and now are in Fayette County High's district. If you look at the district map, we are so obviously avoided as far as Whitewater goes. Only 52 students from Bennett's Mill(90% from Stonebriar) ended up at FCHS, while the rest of the upcoming 9th graders went to Whitewater, Star's Mill and McIntosh. Check out the boundary map and you will see exactly what I am talking about.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Tue, 09/02/2008 - 5:37pm.

I feel as she does. I will be writing her name in November.

I too, would like to know her address and Tami Morris's as well. I want to send donations to both to help.

Can you ladies supply those?

Tug13's picture
Submitted by Tug13 on Wed, 09/03/2008 - 8:17am.

I have grandchildren in Fayette schools. Like others here, I would like to help you in some way!
Please tell us how we can help!
You have my family's support! Smiling

Submitted by wheeljc on Tue, 09/02/2008 - 4:15pm.

Where could one contribute to this campaign. A contribution now could save many bucks in the future. All for funding world class education for kids, but surely the current board should have known serious questions would arise bringing a millage rate increase and a SPLOST initiative up within hours after having been reelected. There may be some folks who voted in August who may want to review their decision in November.

Would be helpful if a PO Box and name of the Campaign Fund could be provided. Want to help Ms. File.


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