State limits what BoE can legally cut

Tue, 10/07/2008 - 3:28pm
By: Letters to the ...

As we discuss the E-SPLOST initiative, a number of residents express the opinion that our school administration is using scare tactics to get people to support the E-SPLOST.

I wish that were true; unfortunately, the facts of the situation are indeed scary. At the time of the first E-SPLOST initiative in 1998, the state of Georgia funded 58 percent of our school budget. In fiscal year 2009, the funding percentage may be lower than 48 percent.

When I first heard about this ballot initiative, I was against more taxes. However, as I dug into the data I found that rising costs, expanding state requirements, and state funding cuts that now exceed $20 million have put our schools in a very tough position.

Compounding these problems is the need to replace over 4,000 computers that were leased, perform maintenance on our schools, and replace buses that are over 10 years old. When you look into the numbers you can see that our administration has tried to defer these costs until the housing crisis, which began over two years ago, is resolved and Fayette is again growing.

However, as the housing crisis continues, our schools and equipment need maintenance and the lessors are demanding the return of their computers. The situation is tough. To compound this situation, Scott Austensen, deputy superintendent of finance and business, said the governor has already asked the state office to present a budget with a 2 percent reduction in expenditures this year, and a 3.5 percent reduction next year.

We have heard and used phrases like “do more with less” and “tighten the belts.” Our school board has made a list of areas that can be reduced or eliminated based on state guidelines to meet these mandates.

Our paraprofessionals help our kindergarten and first-grade teachers so that the effective class size is smaller and our children get the necessary attention in reading and early education. However, this program that sets our schools apart is entirely locally funded; therefore, it can be used to solve our other problems.

Money for the arts such as band, chorus, choir, and drama is also locally funded. Therefore, it is possible to move this investment to other areas.

Similarly, the state of Georgia does not require that every school have a full-time, on-site nurse. In Fayette County we believe differently and fund full-time nurses at every school. In many cases, the nurse can address a situation and return the child to the classroom, thus keeping our children in school.

Other items that the state does not require nor pay for include some of our graduation coaches, security officers in our middle schools, and costs to validate that our students live in our district.

While many of these programs result in our “Fayette Advantage,” they are not required by the state and thus are vulnerable to reduction or elimination to pay for what is considered basic and required by the state of Georgia.

Many other systems have decided to eliminate many of these “extras,” and I believe their performance reflects these choices. Some other systems still offer some combination of the services I have listed above. Often these are the systems that compete with Fayette County for the highest educational honors. Every one of these systems uses an E-SPLOST to pay for items that would otherwise be paid for from educational funds.

As we decide whether or not to authorize an E-SPLOST to fund our schools, it is important to know that most citizens in Fayette are already paying an E-SPLOST on a regular basis.

When we shop and eat in Newnan, we are paying for Coweta schools. When people go to the airport or the Delta general office and eat or spend money at the airport/Virginia Avenue, they are paying for Fulton County/city of Atlanta schools. When we shop at area malls such as Lenox (Fulton), Perimeter (DeKalb), Southlake (Clayton), and Cobb Galleria (Cobb), we are paying for those schools.

In fact, all but three school systems in Georgia have already decided to use an E-SPLOST to help their schools; only Fayette, Burke and Wayne counties do not have an E-SPLOST at this time, according to the Georgia State Department of Education. Wayne previously had adopted an E-SPLOST, met their goals, and then let it expire.

Therefore, the question at hand isn’t whether we want to pay an E-SPLOST, because a vast majority of us already do. The question is whether we want to protect the “Fayette Advantage.”

Neil Sullivan

Co-Chair Fayette Citizens for Children

Peachtree City, Ga.

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Spear Road Guy's picture
Submitted by Spear Road Guy on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 2:11pm.

The FCBOE members had plenty of choices and failed to make responsible decisions.

It's pretty clear the 2004 bonds should've been used for the computers, etc. You admitted the mortgage crisis has been ongoing for years, so why in the heck would they build two more elementary schools? Brown and Paquin are making a lot of sense in the newspaper.

We should label the FCBOE the "Fayette Disadvantage" for their irresponsible behavior.

You're a good guy for wanting what's best for the kids, but you can only abuse the taxpayers so long.

Vote Republican

Submitted by NeilSullivan on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 5:08pm.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. But seriously, I hope to offer the raw facts as I find them and let people make up their own minds. I find them compelling, others may not.

In my opinion, we have to be careful using bond money for short term assets like buses and computers. Bonds take decades to pay off while a computer's useful life is less than 5 according to the IRS, but depending on use obsolescence comes on pretty quick. So paying for these with bonds is a patch, but isn't the best solution unless we are using shorter term bonds, or paying the bonds down quickly.

The elementary schools make sense on a strategic basis if we believe the bounce back is within 2 years. Based on some quick figures I have assembled, Our elementary schools are at 90+% capacity when we apply a 10 % smaller class size then state factor. This factor depends on our class size strategy.

I understand that both the Whitewater and Starr's Mill complexes opened with trailers at max capacity. These buildings could be good, based on what happens, but I think it is a fair question to ask what our forecast is for the next 5 years. I know people say we will be at 30k + students in 2030, but where do we expect to be in 2013? That would help me better evaluate the decision. Personally, I would love for them to build Centennial Elem. But it really should not be a factor for some time so it should be a "want" not a "need".

I have been to Burch and that is a tough situation up there. I understand that 14 trailers of Burch kids go to Rivers, plus enough more to allow Burch to have class size more in line with the rest of the county.

I really believe it would be helpful for the FCBOE to convene some sort of citizens finance review team to help them review decisions and possibly recommend alternatives. People like me with 19 years of finance/ cost cutting/ crazy ideas and others with other financial/ business experience. We don't need to be on the board, but the more viewpoints we bring into the process, the better the results.

Thanks for the feedback and reading I truly appreciate it even if we do not agree.

Be Safe

Submitted by hi grover on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 11:39am.

In a school system why would you cut immediately from the teachers? Did you read about all the empty classrooms we will have once the new elementary school is built? How come the BoE won't answer the questions of the parents and taxpayers? I WANT ANSWERS!!!!

Submitted by Arf on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 12:28pm.

You’re right, hi grover. Where are the answers?

The Fayette County Board of Education has asked for extensive increases in funding through increased property taxes and sales taxes for the coming year. This request is being made even though there is no information forthcoming about how funds were used in the most recent year, what kinds of assets the Board currently owns (that might could be sold) or what could be done (intelligently) to contain or cut costs. No one has presented any budget information for the coming year, nor any concrete analysis of where some of the fat (if there really is fat) can be trimmed. The most recent financial information of the FCBOE is dated June 2007, well over a year ago and in a totally different financial environment than we face today.

In case anyone out there hasn’t been listening, we have very recently turned a very sharp corner. Financial accountability and planning is crucial for the future. It is also crucial that all governments, all companies and all individuals find a very sharp pencil just to keep making this country - and this county work.

We should never feel comfortable approving something of this magnitude without those who are asking also doing the follow up of presenting and justifying a case that can be reviewed, analyzed and possibly agree upon. This is just more craziness being slammed down our throats. Beyond the idle and unsubstantiated threats of laying off parapros and losing some programs, tell us why, how and where you need these funds, FCBOE.

My grandmother always said not to buy a “pig in a poke.” The voters of Fayette County are being asked to vote for and approve nothing more than that.

Submitted by ilivehere on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 10:54am.

I could sit here and make a very long list of wasted BOE funds, we are all aware of them. But bottom line is I am not willing to spend one penny more until I see the BOE making more responsible decisions. The BOE needs to stop the scare tactics and do the right thing. In times like these you do not give raises to administrative staff, where administrative secretaries with high school diplomas make more than our teachers with four year degrees. You do not keep building schools, because that was the plan 5 years ago, when we will now have many empty classrooms. The administration needs to set the first example and show what they are willing to sacrifice, before they go to teachers and students. Lets see it BOE!

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 10:34am.

You state, "Other items that the state does not require nor pay for include some of our graduation coaches, security officers in our middle schools, and costs to validate that our students live in our district."

Now for what really happened.

As far as validating that a student lives in our district I will tell you that when my child brought in the required paperwork to their school the "validation process" consisted of the teacher looking at the document and then checked off my child’s name. That's it.

As you used this as an example of a "cost not paid for by the state" I would estimate the actual expense at being somewhere close to 15 seconds of a teachers’ time. What that breaks down to I have no idea but I'm comfortable in guessing that the teacher spends nearly 4 times that effort deciding what to have for lunch on any given day.

My point being if you're going to use things like, "costs to validate that our students live in our district"; I'm left to wonder what else are you trying to greatly exaggerate the cost of to justify this E-SPLOST?

While I'm at it, I can state for a fact that during the emergency meeting with two of our state representatives held at the Fayette County Council chambers, on the topic of Clayton County, I heard Mrs. Smola clearly state that the FCBOE has no authority to 'investigate' what students live or don't live in the county. I was standing less than three feet from her when she made the comment.

Submitted by NeilSullivan on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 12:24pm.

Basically, FCBOE is employing off duty police and Sheriff's deputies to investigate each new student. Then following up at different times to ensure residency. That is why they have a "welcome center" in the board offices. If someone lies on their affidavits, Fayetteville PD has police power to investigate and prosecute. I know I have found some docs on the cost and number of students removed from the rolls. I will find and post, probably early next week. My recollection is that this cost is in the tens of thousands. I wasn't at the meeting you reference so I do not know.

End of the day, I probably won't post much so no offense to anyone I do not respond to, but we try to answer questions where we can to keep the fact based discussion going.

However, I am taking my son to his first Falcons game this weekend and that is my first priority.

Have a Great Weekend.

Neil Sullivan
Co-Chair Fayette Citizens for Children

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 4:45pm.

Fayetteville PD has police power to investigate and prosecute

The DA is suppose to prosecute.

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 3:34pm.

"Basically, FCBOE is employing off duty police and Sheriff's deputies to investigate each new student."

How much is that costing us?

What about the one's that have been attending our schools illegally for years?

As evidenced by the investigative powers of my child’s' teacher reading the address from a utility bill and checking off their name from some list I don't see much being accomplished.

"If someone lies on their affidavits, Fayetteville PD has police power to investigate and prosecute."

Is the FCBOE pressing charges? How many have been prosecuted? Has any money been recovered? If not, them why bother? It’s apparent that this course of action is having NO effect on the problem.

According to the FCBOE we the taxpayers pay roughly $7,500/student/year.

As we were told earlier in the year some 300+ illegal students have been removed from our school system why then hasn't the FCBOE demanded restitution from the offenders?

For 300+ illegal students for a year, or more, that comes to about $2,250,000.

Why aren't the offending parties made to pay restitution for both the investigative efforts and the time that the child spent illegally in our schools?

When can we, the tax payers of Fayette County, expect to see these offenders prosecuted for their illegal actions?

It's not enough for the illegal student simply to be removed. My tax dollars were stolen and I want them back.

Are there any numbers on what illegal 'out of county' students have cost the tax payers of Fayette County?

One would think that the FCBOE would force the issue when $2,250,000 was stolen.

If the FCBOE is going to look the other way when $2,250,000 is stolen, why should I trust them with an additional $115,000,000?

Additionally, if the FCBOE can afford to employ people to sit around and come up with “Locked Bathroom” and “No Touching” policies then I see no good reason to give them any more of my money.

Submitted by NeilSullivan on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 4:49pm.

I found the data I was looking for:

We pay $25/ hr for Sheriffs deputies to investigate new students.

In FY 2008, they investigated 2,430 cases and withdrew 363
In the current fiscal year 794 cases and have resulted in 19 withdrawals. Last year we paid almost $20,000 for these investigations.

There has been "at least 1" prosecution according to Dr. Decotis at an open meeting where I asked the question because I am with you. If we catch em charge the parents.

While we spread all of our fixed costs over the student base so we can't use the 8,000+ figure. But we should have a policy that says if you are found to be incorrectly we will charge you $x as "liquidated damages"

It would be interesting to quantify the cost of out of system, but first we need to isolate the truly variable costs versus the fixed. For example, we are down 1/2 % in enrollment, but spread over nearly 30 schools and multiple grades within each school, there isn't much incremental savings. But I am still trying to get to a variable cost model, update when I have it.

Hope this helps with whatever you decide. Our committee is really trying to get as many facts out there to help people decide based on data. You can contact me directly through the website.

Have a great weekend all and thanks for reading.

Neil Sullivan
Co-Chair Fayette Citizens for Children

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 5:19pm.

Your providing me a straight answer is indeed a refreshing experience.

Thank you for your time and effort.

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 5:11pm.

DATE: November 23, 2006
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The first Fayette County arrests for residency fraud -- highly promoted by local law and education officials -- will not result in any convictions. District Attorney Scott Ballard said last week that the first two cases he took on had been settled by "pre-trial diversion" -- meaning the Clayton County grandmother and mother arrested will not be prosecuted. Ballard blamed a "technicality" for his decision not to take the cases to the grand jury next month or demand restitution for the time the three children may have attended school here illegally. But Ballard said he was happy with the outcome in which the women agreed not to re-enroll the students in Fayette schools, unless they lived here. "This just wasn't a very aggravated situation to me because the family had actually lived in Fayette County for some time," he said. This past summer, education and law enforcement officials held a press conference announcing a unified effort to crack down on nonresidents sneaking their children into Fayette schools. Three months later, they stood before TV cameras to tout the arrests of Denise and Michelle Slay -- accusing the women of "false swearing" to a Fayetteville address on student enrollment forms. If convicted of the felony, the Slays could have been fined as much as $1,000 each or been sent to prison for five years. They did not respond to a phone call for comment. Sam Sweat, the school system's assistant superintendent for operations, admitted he was disappointed in the outcome of the first cases. But he's hopeful about others being pursued. Sweat said the message is getting out that residency violators are not being tolerated. During the past two months, he said, 13 students voluntarily withdrew from school as investigators began checking into suspicious addresses. "Even with the Slays, we sent the right message," Sweat said, "because they're no longer in Fayette County schools."

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 5:36pm.

I remember the article; thanks for posting it.

As for Ballard blaming a "technicality" for his lack of prosecution, well what should we have expected from him, a convection?

Between you, me and anyone that reads this blog I would like to see some serious fines and maybe a little jail time for a few of the out of county violators. After all they did steal our tax dollars.

Perhaps we need to get some of our elected officials to up the anti and make it mandatory for the DA to prosecute the people that steal our tax money.

Then again that might be counter productive as they themselves could end up in court.

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 5:49pm.

Here's a little thingy from a blog that I often visit;

Can anyone direct me to an area near Mcdonough Rd and Hwy 54 where there are some places to ride. I take my daughter to school in that area from College Park and I will save more gas riding out there instead of returning to the Silk Sheets. I saw a park called McMurry park, In case anyone may know where that is.

Now, I don't know the details and it could be legit but, I'm suspicious.
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

Submitted by PTC Avenger on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 9:38am.

The "Fayette Advantage" you alluded to does not spring from our school system. It comes from the thousands of dedicated and concerned parents in the county, parents who don't let their children watch TV until they finish their homework, parents who post their children's tests on the fridge when they get an A, parents who play an active role in their child's life. Of course it would be foolish not to give the school system credit, it's a fantastic system and offers the children of Fayette County so, so much. But let's face reality here, the system has to make due during this economic climate just like everybody else. The FCBOE is elected to make tough fiduciary decisions. If they can't comb through the budget with a red pen then they're not up to the necessary challenge the job requires.

I think many people are upset with how some current board members never even mentioned at all the possibility of this SPLOST during the primary election season. Then after they won their seats they sprang it on us and tell us how bad it will be if we do not pass this initiative.

How about doing away with yearly teacher raises/COLA adjustments? They're almost unheard of in the private sector these days. Paraprofessionals? Please. If the teacher is effective then there is no need for a paraprofessional. I never had one when I was in school and I'm far from uneducated. And no, my class size was not small (approx. 25). I've spoken with a lot of people about this, people who plan to vote on November 4th, and probably 9 out of 10 say they're going to vote no.

It's time for the school board to get real.

opusman's picture
Submitted by opusman on Sun, 10/12/2008 - 5:05pm.

The Naïveté abounds here. For starters teachers in Fayette County have not received a county level raise since 1995 or 1998 10-13years. The percentage raises you read about in the papers are A STATE LEVEL(paid by the state not the county) raise on the state portion only of teachers pay. State pay is paid by the state; only the local supplement is paid by the county. Read the salary supplement on the FCBOE web site it breaks the pay down. Regardless though, these raises are not on a yearly basis. So please do your research before you speak. In the private sector most are given performance raises and are paid competitively by position and most definitely receive a raise after years of experience.

Submitted by NeilSullivan on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 12:47pm.

Dear Avenger:

I wish I could agree with you on all points. Some things to consider. Base teacher pay is set by the State of Georgia. FCBOE can control any supplemental pay but the pay scales are set by the state.

For example, Georgia has increased the pay scales 2 % this year, at the same time, Georgia has cut funding 2 %. FCBOE is seriously looking at making teachers pay more for benefits to help offset this situation. However, the cost of the benefits appears to be larger than the pay raise. So, the teachers will be participating in these reductions.

A guess the class size argument and paraprofessional argument are really a matter of taste and opinion. In talking to several front line teachers they believe that these paraprofessionals contribute to the foundation of success and reflect in our very high reading CCRT scores. In addition, front line teachers have indicated that the smaller class sizes allow them to give better "service" to all of their students. For those considering class size, the state of Georgia is indicating they will give "relief" from class size limits to help schools manage costs.

As far as the election, I guess we travel in different circles. I think we will see this question fall somewhere in the 40-60/ 60-40 range based on activity we see on our email and website as well as feedback.

Have a Blessed Day

Submitted by notjustcomplaining on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 8:53am.

Neil Sullivan,

Here we go again - - let's talk about the "Fayette Advantage" then foreshadow it's imminent loss without voting SPLOST.

Sorry, I don't buy it. I would argue that our administrators on the FCBOE do exactly the opposite what they just threatened.

Win support from your constituency by making a promise that the "Fayette Advantages" are offlimits, and not on the table for trading. Sell land, stop building unnecessary schools, look at consolidating core functions, and even *HORRORS* offer a salary cut at the administrative leve, but commit that you won't quickly offer up the "Fayette Advantage" and you wouldn't have a public groundswell of resentment of yet one more tax.

Vote *NO* to SPLOST. Vote *YES* to Nicole File, Post 1 Write-in Candidate to Janet Smola. She won't trade these away......

Submitted by g8trgrl on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 3:01pm.

I must say I am feeling light on the feet today, I just wrote in Nicole File for School Board & voted NO for SPLOST! I really hope people wise up to what has been going on in this county with your tax money. I don't have the extra cash to cover another tax. I just can't do it!

Submitted by heatjam on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 4:29pm.

It does feel good doesn't it? I know that I enjoyed it!! But then again, I also enjoyed running over a "re-elect Janet Smola" sign that had fallen down. Pretty sadistic, huh??

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