School system is a financial wreck

Steve Brown's picture

In economic times like these, we can easily see which governments have been managing the store and which ones have been shoplifting.

Local governments like Cobb County, Clayton County, Fulton County, Spalding County, Henry County Board of Education and quite a few others will not be dipping into their reserve funds in 2009 because they were smart enough to prepare.

Cobb County actually finished fiscal year 2008 with a surplus of over $384,000. Cobb Finance Director Brad Bowers said the strong finish was attributed to the county “being conservative, by controlling our expenditures and by being proactive” (AJC, Jan. 14, 2009).

It is no secret the Fayette County Board of Education (FCBOE) is a financial train wreck. The FCBOE power-threesome of Terri Smith, Janet Smola and Lee Wright are spinning so far out of reality, you just have to put your head into your hands and sigh. Ms. Smola convinced many blinded school parents of her financial acumen, and they foolishly placed their trust in her.

Board member Lee Wright might be the only salvageable person out of the three. At a recent meeting, “Wright suggested that the [school system’s five-year strategic] plan should include a goal on fiscal responsibility” (The Citizen, “BoE looks at deeper cuts,” Jan. 14). And while Wright’s new perspective is appreciated, it is about six years too late.

The voters have enabled the power-threesome’s bad financial behavior by throwing money at them every time they asked for it.

Now they want to close down the elementary they just built. As a consequence, do not expect them to dismantle most of their reckless deeds from the past, and you can count on teachers and paraprofessionals taking the brunt of the pain.

In Peachtree City, we are down to the core of the onion. All of the outer layers have been removed and what we have remaining does not look very edible.

Please do not blame Peachtree City’s financial meltdown on the city staff. Mayor Logsdon, Councilman Boone and Councilwoman Plunkett had been warned to cease fire on the unbudgeted expenses and draining the reserves, but they refused.

Plunkett is causing disaster on parallel tracks as she also led the way for the amphitheater’s implosion which had to be dumped on the city.

Now, through recent events, we know the City Council’s lack of ability is worse than previous thought. This from a group who inherited the some of the best fund balances in the city’s history.

Much like when the FCBOE put paraprofessionals on the gallows and demanded an affirmative vote on the E-SPLOST to save them, the City Council of Peachtree City placed a noose around 23 of their employees’ necks and told the remaining employees to take a 25 percent pay cut to save them. This is a crude way to defer blame from the ones who actually caused the problem.

The City Council claimed their cutting the 23 jobs would save $840,000, but surely they are not going to stop mowing the grass and weeding the medians. They failed to say how much it would cost to subcontract the labor to handle the work.

Mayor Logsdon said, ”I don’t think there’s an option that hasn’t been looked at by staff and council” (The Citizen, “PTC delays decision on 23 job cuts,” Jan. 16). But the council members did not include the department directors in their decisions. Would it not be a good idea to include the directors and ask them how to cut funds from their budgets?

Another sign of the council’s financial instability was the fact they bought a fleet of new vehicles and equipment for the same employees they now plan to cut. This is the same kind of seat-of-your-pants decision making that got the FCBOE in trouble.

Another disturbing sign from the City Council is question 17 on their UPDATE survey. The question is, “If services must be cut, in what order should Council consider departments for those cuts? Please rank service areas below from 1-11, with #1 for the FIRST area to be reviewed for cuts, and #11 for the LAST area to be reviewed for cuts.”

Ouch! The council really wants to defer their authority to a group of citizens penciling in number 1-11 next to various city operations? Please keep in mind the council does not give any budget information, staffing numbers, service areas or other vital statistics to aid the citizens with where to place their rankings.

Maybe a panel with some non-”yes” people to thoroughly research and discuss budget issues would be acceptable, but asking residents to throw darts at a list so they came be blamed for a negative outcome instead of the City Council is outrageous.

All of the council’s quick-fix solutions will cause long-term problems. In addition, employee morale crashes when the council creates deficit budgets, increases council pay and funds pet projects at the expense of hard-working staffers. Think about the city eliminating the landscaping of subdivision entrances and the impact that will have on the future appearance of the city.

With all of the ridiculous stuff going on, tip your hat to the town of Tyrone. Mayor Don Rehwaldt and crew inherited some considerable financial obstacles, but they pumped up their reserves and their ship is heading the right direction. Tyrone gives me hope that the others can come around if they just have courage to face reality.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at]

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MainframeComputerGuy's picture
Submitted by MainframeComputerGuy on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 10:30pm.

My comment after "prioritizing" the 11 items was that seven or eight of them should all be #1. I vote to maintain the streets, the entrances and the cart paths. The rest of these should be funded by those who use them, from The Senior Center through The Fred to The Library. Why are we forever increasing the taxpayer funding for these items when they are used by so few? And why, in the face of taxpayers' resources being frozen or decreasing (property values -- the only offer on my house has been for less than I paid eight years ago) are we expected to pay more every year for things we don't use? Time to tighten up, "Government"!

Submitted by MacTheKnife on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 11:10am.

We are living in the world of the easily fooled my friends.

From Chicago, to Washington to the FCBOE we are buying "pie in the sky" and following the blind to the slaughterhouse.

But my oh my how we are embracing change and political correctness.

Yes indeed, we are quite the progressive school system. Are we all feeling good yet?

Submitted by Bonkers on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 8:27am.

will save 800,000 dollars, we then must be getting the grass cut for zero! 23, with SS and benefits would cost that much.

Maybe the plan is to NOT mow the grass, remove any trees, pickup any deer in the city, or maybe: the office staff will do all that during the breaks?

I know one of the contractors who bid on the mowing, etc., and he doesn't work for ZERO!

We have a problem here: either the paper mis writes what is said, or those saying it are fools! Anybody want to say "Tennis Center?"

Submitted by heatjam on Tue, 01/20/2009 - 10:09pm.

Now they want to close down the elementary they just built.

Are you talking about Rivers or Inman?

Steve Brown's picture
Submitted by Steve Brown on Tue, 01/20/2009 - 10:34pm.

They proposed to close Rivers before it opens. The sad part is they closed a perfectly good East Fayetteville Elementary to justify Inman and Rivers.

Submitted by concerned SHME ... on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 10:58am.

Does anybody know why the FCBOE bought the Kiwanas Fairgrounds on Goza Road? Most of the buses still park at Ingles and other places. That purchase seems like a total waste of money!

Steve Brown's picture
Submitted by Steve Brown on Sat, 01/24/2009 - 7:41pm.

Millions were used to purchase the fairgrounds for the FCBOE. The designated use was for a "bus barn" facility, a place to park and maintain school buses.

They used bond funds to buy the land, but bond referendum documents did not specify land for that particular use.

This site has been a source of controversy as it should be.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Tue, 01/20/2009 - 5:32pm.

Steve, have you read this strategic plan?

I did...all 160 disorganized pages

It was done by committee back in 2006 so the board could check of a task on the "Board of distinction checkoff list"

It is nothing more than a glorified wish list of unprioritized tasks.

Tasks are added as need but seldom if ever updated.

You'll be glad to know a funding mechanism was put in place in 2006 to establish a reserve to replace leased computers coming off-lease. (Wonder whatever happened to THAT?)

One theme throughout the plan is that employees all need more training, pay grades should be reclassified, headcount must be increased, and trade shows must be attended. This is "strategy"?

Wright's suggestion to dump something into the "strategic plan" is a crass attempt to bury an inconvenient problem, sinc this "plan" is obviously not being managed to.
Palin-Nugent 2012

Steve Brown's picture
Submitted by Steve Brown on Tue, 01/20/2009 - 10:02pm.

What we have witnessed from the FCBOE borders on negligence.

The group promoting the E-SPLOST acted like the FCBOE propaganda unit. I am sure some of the E-SPLOST people were fed lies and did not know any better.

The mantra of the "Fayette Advantage" kept getting thrown around. Seriously, what is the advantage of financially crashing the system?

There is quite a bit of fat at FCBOE HQ, so begin there. However, this disaster started at the Board level. I loved Janet Smola's personal website where she brags about all of the wonderful things she has accomplished. Well, we are paying for those actions now.

You have to play by the rules. Do not spend what you do not have or are willing to generate.

Submitted by ptcmom678 on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 6:17am.

I didn't vote for the E-Splost partly because I was really disgusted by the FCBOE main office tactics. They scared the teachers to death to enlist their support, and then got on the pulpit in totally inappropriate places - during an elementary school PTA meeting, among others. As a fourth generation (former) teacher, this was an incredible tough decision to make. Subsequent events are proving my decision totally correct. Did the bulk of the Board come to Fayette from Clayton, or were they just taking really good noted during Clayton Board of Ed. meetings?


suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 6:43am.

yes, I feel they used and strong armed, the teachers as well. As soon as they got their E-Splost, they turned on them. The teachers fear put Smola back in office.

As Mr Brown pointed out, other counties took care of their money and are not in the same fix. Sniffles has taken a very hard look at our technology, or lack of it, and pointed out the lack of judgement.

When is somebody going to get a petition for a recall? It isn't hard, and it works.

We would have money if we hadn't built the extra schools, bought the extra land we now can't give away. My money comes too dear for them to have one more cent to squander. The sad part of it is that they will just keep going. It is a sickness.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 01/21/2009 - 2:00am.

by the way, has anyone ever ...seen...'the many licenses I have held in the insurance and securities industry' referred to on her web site?

"hy I consider myself qualified to manage school system budgets I would refer to the many licenses I have held in the insurance and securities industry prior to dedicating my life to the non- profit world. Additionally, during my tenure at all of these non profits, participation in budget creation, scrutiny and execution has always been a part of my job description. "

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