The FCBOE Budget

Tue, 01/20/2009 - 2:24pm
By: sniffles5

I have spent the last week reconciling the FCBOE Grand Strategic 5-year plan against the audited financial results of the last 3 years.

The picture isn't pretty, folks.

The FCBOE has painted itself into a grim financial corner, yet seems to be in denial with regard to their options.

How did we get there?

The seeds of rot were first planted in the year 2000 by former Board Comptroller Jim Stephens. He engineered a bond issue with a payback period of nine years, which Claude Pacquin detailed the folly of doing elsewhere on this site. It cannot be emphasized how badly this poor decision crippled the Board's financial flexibility for the years 2001 through 2010. Short of doing the unthinkable (defaulting on school bonds), this fiasco severely limits the options available to a cash-strapped board.

The second major problem occurred in 2003, when the board splurged and indulged a high-risk, high-reward scheme to maximize school capacity beyond established growth patterns. Thus, two essentially unneeded elementary schools were built along with the infamous Bennett's Mill Middle School (the "school to nowhere").

The board had one last chance to rectify their overindulgence in mid-2007 and cancel the construction of at least one of the schools, but instead blindly forged ahead rather than admit a mistake had been made.

In 2005, Peachtree City was essentially built out, and the great growth engine that allowed the school board to bury past budgeting mistakes since the late 1970s sputtered and cooled off. Yet the board, along with school administrators, refused to accept reality. The first year of declining enrollment was an "aberration", the second year was the result of "kicking out Clayton freeloaders"....they always had an excuse.

They didn't even bother to try to come up with an excuse this year.

We're in the start of a new period in our school system's history, with an aging population and fewer students entering the kindergarten and primary grades.

Yet we built two new elementary schools...and we staffed them.

So where do we go from here?

"Cut administrative costs!"

Okay, I'm game. The optimal span of control for a senior manager is 5 to 7 people. Dr. Decotis has 2 direct reports and one indirect report: The comptroller and the Deputy super, with the PR flack as indirect.

The Deputy Super has 3 direct reports: the assistant super for instruction, the assistant super for operations and the construction supervisor.

My solution? Fire the Deputy super and the PR person and the construction supervisor. Reorg so that Decotis now has the comptroller and two assitant supers...then promote someone in technology to be the Chief Technology Officer for the school system, with the rank of assistant superintendent. I'll explain why in a moment.

We have approximately 200 secretaries and clerks on the school payroll, many people feel that is "too many". I used to feel that way, as well.

I did some research though, and asked questions of a number of people. What I found was surprising:

There is NO cohesive information technology plan in this county. There is a technology "wish list" that has no rhyme or reason and one that is subject to good ole fashion politicking.

Technology projects in this school system fester like weeds. Let me give you an example. John Doe finds a cool product that would increase his school department's productivity 300%. A No-brainer, right?

Wrong. John gets funding, and his department's productivity is increased. BUT, there was no cost-benefit analysis done and now a clerk must be hired to input and maintain student records independently of John's department. Then someone discovers John's cool system and wants to interface to it...but it wasn't designed for interfacing. Solution? Hire a consultant to write an interface! That 300% productivity gain has evaporated due to clerical costs, overhead and outside consulting costs.

Multiply that by several hundred departments and the costs become astronomical.

Look at the so-called "strategic" plan for some of these projects. One project is to re-write the entire FCBOE website in "php code". Why? Because PHP is a hotter technology and the propeller-heads want to learn it. Best use of our tax dollars? Hell no.

According to the "strategic" document, better communication is the overall number one priority in the county, even higher than having successful students. Dubious priorities aside, it's worth noting that most of the major IT projects of the last 5 years have been shiny gee-whiz ain't it cool projects that look good but the underlying technology rots.

The biggest offender in the schools horribly antiquated email system. Improving it is the lowest priority on the school's Tech wish list ("better communications" be damned) and the techies readily admit it hosted on ancient hardware. How bad is it? Board member Janet Smola has openly made fun of it, and says she will not use it for correspondence as she finds it "unreliable".

Overall, the lack of technology cohesion means that Fayette county has had to hire a small army of clerks and secretaries to "work harder, not smarter". Thinning their ranks may improve the bottom line in the short term, but would have a significant adverse effect in the long run.

So where CAN we cut?

The FCBOE gets significant funding from the state for the vast majority of positions. They will not fund Fayette's excess positions, however.

Where are our "surplus"/excess positions?

1. Parapros. We pay for 3/4 of them entirely from local taxes, The state pays for half of the remaining 1/4.

2. Music instruction. It would appear that the state has said if you want to fund a music teacher and/or an orchestra it yourself. (I'd hate to see us cut here).

3. Elementary school teachers. I cannot seem to get a definitive number here, but anectdotally it would appear that we have a padded payroll in some if not all elementary schools. While we may WANT to have four 1st grade teachers teaching 13 students apiece, the state allows for larger class sizes of 18 to 20 teachers. We could conceivably have 3 teachers teaching 17 students. I know it's not politically correct to suggest reducing "front line" staff, but this is where the bulk of the savings can occur.

Right now, the board is content to realize "savings" through attrition, and this is a rather haphazard way of saving money.

Something has to change.

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Submitted by fc1989 on Thu, 02/19/2009 - 12:00am.

A lot of good comments on the budget. I have to disagree a bit on the debt service strapping the school system though. The debt payments come from property taxes based on the debt service millage rate. This is separate from the M&O millage for the general fund. It didn't make sense to finance a 30 to 50 year asset over 9 years but I am not sure that it is directly affecting the general operating fund. It does cost something to have an empty building but it is not a budget buster. I believe that the bond funds and debt service funds can only be used for the purpose of the bonds and debt retirement.

Also where is the outrage with the state for cutting back so much on education? How much of the projected $14.5 million shortfall is state reductions? Although we cannot do much about the revenue side it is part of what got us here.

Also, I believe the construction supervisor left for Clayton Co last year (greener pastures???) and the construction supervision is being outsourced to an engineering firm involved in the construction at a lower cost than his salary.

Submitted by Spyglass on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 10:17pm.

there are no easy answers.

G35 Dude's picture
Submitted by G35 Dude on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 8:58pm.

I see nothing in your list of possible cuts that relates to the pay of our school board leader. Is it fair that Decotis should make more than the Governor for the job that he has done? If the teachers need to give up their raise's shouldn't Decotis give his back also?

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 3:07pm.

I did some more number crunching on average raises for FCBOE employees (in aggregate). Virtually the entire school system got approximately a 3% raise last year (latest year available).

There were two exceptions: JROTC instructors got a 17% raise, which may be explained by midyear staff turnover (i.e. huge variance between min and max salaries) and a small sample size (3 instructors)...and Dr. DeCotis got a 12% raise.

I assume that the members of the Board of Education personally negotiated the salary of the Superintendent, so they have only themselves to blame for giving Dr. DeCotis a raise that is 400% above average staff raises. A legal contract means the school system must pay him the money.

Palin-Nugent 2012

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 4:32pm.

I think by this point that it's fair to say that the FCBOE lurches from crisis to crisis. Most recently we had the "PC leasing crisis".

That crisis was "only" 5 million or so dollars.

Suppose I told you that Fayette county was looking at a 97 MILLION DOLLAR CRISIS?

You see, the state of Georgia funds approximately 48 percent of the Fayette county school system budget. In order to receive this money, the state requires reams and volumes of paperwork on a regular basis, to make sure that the county is receiving the correct amount of funding.

The school system uses an antique software system known as SASI, along with a phalanx of administrative types, to make sure that these reports and figures are produced, and the 97 million or so dollars of state largesse makes its way into Fayette School coffers, where it is then frittered away.

But I digress.

As I said, the SASI program is an antique. The vendor that licenses the program has discontinued the program after this school year...i.e. the FCBOE will no longer be allowed to use it (if I understand the terms of the license correctly). The vendor has also discontinued support for this program as well. The vendor gave ample notice to its customers years ago (I believe 2006) that it was "sunsetting" this product.

What did the school board do?


There is an "action item" in the 2006 five year plan that states that this MUST be addressed prior to the 2009 school year, but I have yet to see any RFP (request for proposal) generated by the school system for a replacement system.

This is NOT a trivial matter, folks...we're talking negative consequences of tens of millions of dollars, money that is at-risk because of school system indifference.

The existing SASI system evidently has many, many satellite systems that feed off of it, it is the "central repository" of student information. A replacement system must have each of these systems evaluated and re-integrated (or discontinued) into it.

There will be a large capital outlay required to bring in replacement technology (hardware and software)...(I'm assuming the hardware will need to be upgraded due to the extreme age of the existing system).

I fear a "crash" program will be instituted at the last possible moment to do the minimum job required to keep the state funding pipe operational. How sad, this is another missed opportunity to bring the school system's technology kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Submitted by ks73417 on Sun, 02/15/2009 - 12:15am.

I have been working with SASIxp for the last 10 years or so, and can say that it's the best Student Information system out there when it comes to versatility and functionality.

I know Pearson is going to withdraw support for thr product this august, but, that should not be the reason a school system should abandon the application. It will continue to work as it is supposed to.

School systems using SASI can spend a fraction of what they will spend on a new SIS replacement to make SASI work even without Pearson supporting it.

There are solutions available in the marketplace that will fill the void created by Pearson. There are school systems in Georgia that will continue to use SASI without Pearson support and have no impact on their day-to-day business of conducting school business.

I am saddened to see school districts cut teachers and other school personnels just to be able to fund a new SIS when they don't have to.

I think I will write to the Fayette County board members and encourage them to make right decisions.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Mon, 02/23/2009 - 5:24pm.

Hi Ks73417,

You are absolutely correct, historically SASI has been the workhorse of moderately sized school systems throughout the country.

Pearson gave school systems six years notice that it was discontinuing support for the product, I believe they gave notice back in 2003.

They have replaced SASIxp with a different product that they've rebranded as the successor to SASIxp. The biggest difference is that the new product is browser based (i.e. runs under Internet Explorer or Firefox). The other difference is that the new product runs a true SQL database, which allows for reporting capabilities not present in SASIxp. They've re-engineered the back end of the product too, which is good because the underlying database in the SASIxp product has not been sold since 1999.

There are several reasons to upgrade to the latest software, primarily related to security and report writing. It's usually considered an "audit deficiency" to run obsolete/unsupported software.

Our Board of Education had sufficient notice that they needed to replace this software, this was a "highest priority" item on the five year plan in 2006 (and updated in 2008). As is the standard operating procedure for this board, they opted to do nothing until the deadline approached. We have a reactive board, not a proactive board.

Submitted by fc1989 on Wed, 02/18/2009 - 11:05pm.

What will the school system do with a software system that is not supported when the state changes reporting formats or requirements? Pearson is probably getting out of the business because the state legislature changes their minds every session on how to run education. If the software is not supported the only answer is in house programmers for system maintenance. I do not think the board can justify such an expense. Surely other systems are migrating to other options.

Submitted by Y oh Y on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 5:13pm.

Sniifles good work on the anlysis. THe SASI is in the ESPLOST from what the FCBOE was saying.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 6:48pm.

Time to Get Real
Submitted by Y oh Y on Tue, 09/02/2008 - 12:12pm.
The schools were good... So were Clayton's. Our schools continue to be good due to GOOD MANAGEMENT. That management starts with Dr. D.

Git what are your complaints other than a pathological hatred of Janet Smola and Terri Smith?

Do you not like our scores and results?

Do you not like the fact that a welcome center was established in fayetteville to give police power to FPD over anyone who lies about residency.

Forward planning ( yes the houses aren't there but they are coming ) for tomorrow so we do not build trailer cities like other systems?

Not rubber stamping I would like to see smaller class size ( they are growing ), 5 high schools that beat the national average not just the # 47 state average, and higher expectations of our high school students... no remediation miss a deadline get a zero and learn a lesson.

But we are far far better off than most. Thanks to all of our current board, Dr. D and Mr. Sweat. As well as our teachers, parents, and students, it is a team effort and credit is due.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 7:00pm.

Submitted by Y oh Y on Mon, 10/06/2008 - 11:07am.
Y team reporters saw the Tyrone police addressing an enterprising File supporter who had taken up Smola signs and replacing them with File signs around the Publix yesterday afternoon. He was in a tan Ford with a Nikki File car magnet. The stolen (yep it is a crime) Smola signs were in the bed of the truck and witnessed by the Tyrone PD.

Call them and get a copy of the report. Get the FACTS.

First these "supporters" threaten to beat up and bloody our BOE and now they steal. Obviously Saint Nick has gotten herself some quality supporters.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 7:12pm.

their encounter with a person 20-30 years older, than the 2 against one?

I heard, so I don't know if it is true...these 2 that were ..almost...beat up 1 person, alone against 2, 20-30 years younger...hired a lawyer and asked the elderly person to drop his charges...of cource....I don't know if that is true...just a I understand it...

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 2:06am.

thanks for the insite. Wanna run for the BOE? I'll vote for you.

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