Sniffles' Soapbox: FCBOE Costs vs. peers

Fri, 02/20/2009 - 5:33pm
By: sniffles5

I am indebted to FC1989 for providing me a link to a matrix of school system expenditures broken down by functional areas.

Number crunching nirvana! I have used that site to create a web query in Excel 2007 to do some serious analysis of FCBOE expenditures.

First of all, it was necessary to do an apples-to-apples comparisons. There are 165 school districts in Georgia, mostly counties, but a few city districts and a handful of special "charter districts".

The reason apples-to-apples is so critical is to prevent distortion: for example, Berrien County has 3000 students and pays their superintendent $100,000 per year. Comparing that to our own Dr. DeCotis would make it appear that we vastly underpay him to manage 22,000 students at 200K per year. I doubt many people in Fayette county (not named Smola, anyway) would agree that DeCotis merits an $800,000+ salary!

To get a peer group subset, I filtered school systems with student populations between 15,000 and 35,000 per year. Why these arbitrary numbers? Because above and below those numbers there are extremes that skew results, i.e. mega-school systems such as Dekalb, Gwinnett, and Clayton, and many dozen county school systems with 3 to 5 thousand students.

This gave me a "peer group" of fifteen schools:
Chatham County
Newton County
Douglas County
Paulding County
Coweta County
Rockdale County
Fayette County
Richmond County
Dougherty County
Houston County
Hall County
Forsyth County
Columbia County
Bibb County
Muscogee County

Next factor was QBE funding. QBE funding roughly equates to a level playing field, there should be little to no deviation from QBE standards with regard to funding UNLESS a school system pays for it themselves. Arguably, if a school system is 5% or more above or below state averages, there should be some explaination for the discrepancy.

I averaged the costs of functional areas within the peer group above then compared Fayette against their peer group as a percentage. Above 100% means we pay more on average than average, below 100% means we pay less.

  • Classroom instruction: 108% (significantly above average)
  • Pupil Services(Special Ed): 94%
  • Staff Services: 96%
  • General Administration: 101%
  • School Administration: 111%
  • (significantly above average)

  • Transportation: 95% (see below)
  • Maintenance: 99%
  • TOTAL: 105% (3rd highest in peer group)

Some highlights:

  1. From the DOE's perspective, Fayette is the wealthiest county in the state. Forsyth has higher average income, but has public housing that qualifies for Federal education assistance (Title I)
  2. Fayette is the only county in the state which does not receive federal Title I funding....not enough poor people
  3. Fayette has fewer Special Ed students as a percentage of the population OR the Special Ed students have a higher teacher/student ratio than other counties
  4. From a funding standpoint, there appears to be no excessive amount of personnel at the County office
  5. The individual schools, however, appear to be overstaffed in both professional and non-salaried positions. This bolsters sugarfoot's claim of "teaching consultants"
  6. We're at the exact middle point for maintenance and operations staff
  7. We're "below average" on transportation cost, but I believe that is misleading. The correct calculation should be Cost per Student divided by square miles in the county. There are HUGE deviations in transportation cost, more than any single category

Sooo...there you have it. Feel free to poke holes in my methodology, I had an hour to kill and did this primarily as a mental exercise.

Who can explain all this excess administrative cost at the school level? High asst. principal salaries? Too many clerks? I honestly don't know.

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Submitted by Jaxxiesgirl on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 7:09pm.

Great number crunching but we are talking about children here. Numbers can only show you so much. Reality is that you have to look at the children we teach and their needs as well as their behavior. I bet we could do with a lot fewer administration IF children were better behaved and there were more parents who taught children to behave better and have more respect for adults and their peers. I see the daily ins and outs of a school and what the administration does in one day. You might cut administration by the 11% it is over but the same amount of work is still there for less people to do. That would be interesting to see how that worked out.

So, classroom instruction is over 108%. Once again, if ALL students came to school ready and prepared to learn then it would work to cut classroom instruction to save money. However, that is not the case and Fayette County does a great job of providing extra support staff needed to help struggling students. That 8% is definitely not wasted.

Fayette County does receive Title I funds. I teach here and I know that for a fact. You can also drive by North Fayette Elementary and the old East Fayette Elementary and see the Title I Distinguished School signs they have out front if you need some proof.

Submitted by pantherpride on Mon, 03/02/2009 - 1:21pm.

The difference is found in the Weights for FTE Funding found on QBE Reports and the actual numbers of students enrolled.
Segments are weighted so that classes that require a lower student-teacher ratio, such as a special education class, receives more funding than a regular social studies class that has a higher maximum class size. All students are counted by the segments in which they are enrolled and then the system’s QBE earnings are calculated.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Mon, 03/02/2009 - 11:05am.

When I did the initial calculations above, I took the FCBOE at their word that there were 22,300 students attending their schools. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how we could be underspending our peer groups yet still be in such a financial crunch, the funding shortfalls didn't make sense. Other schools have the same cost basis yet weren't struggling and making the nightly news!

...and then Melinda Berry-Dreisbach admitted we actually only had 21,300 students and a lightbulb went on over my head.

Plugging in the new revised attendance numbers, we get the following adjusted per capita student expenditures:
# Classroom instruction: 112% (WAY above average)
# Pupil Services: 98%
# Staff Services: 99%
# General Administration: 105% (NOW we are "top heavy")
# School Administration: 115% (WAY above average)
# Transportation: 99%
# Maintenance: 103%
TOTAL: 109% (Now 2nd highest in peer group)

NOW the funding model makes sense: we're right where we're supposed to be, more or less, in Pupil Services, Staff Services, Transportation and Maintenance.

With a base of 21,300 students, we have a huge surplus in both teaching positions (12%) and individual school administration (assistant principals, parapros, clerks) (15%). Additionally, only NOW can we see from a financial standpoint that we have more central office staff than we can reasonably be expected to support (5% overage being the minimum standard deviation for defining "significant").

What does this mean? Bottom line, we are well-stocked from a front-line personnel and facitilies standpoint for a huge growth boom.

But the growth boom hasn't materialized and is unlikely to do so anytime in the next 2 or 3 years, so the Fayette taxpayer is supporting a bloated school infrastructure it cannot afford.

Simply put, your school board gambled spectacularly on growth....and lost.

G35 Dude's picture
Submitted by G35 Dude on Sun, 02/22/2009 - 6:44pm.

I'm not at all surprised that we're most out of line in the area of School Administration. I assume this is where Mr (I'm worth more than the Govenor) Decotis' salary is counted ?

Submitted by Monty07 on Fri, 02/27/2009 - 11:49pm.

A school administrator is a principal or assistant principal. Central office administration includes the superintendents. Fayette county is able to attract and hire experienced, highly educated administrators. The more experience and higher degrees account for the salary differneces. Also the state does reimburse the county for those degrees. Fayette receives more money for staff with masters, specialists and doctorates than it does for bachelors degrees.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 02/28/2009 - 6:18am.

Just how bad would Fayette schools be getting if we didn't have all these masters and doctors at the complex?

Can't imagine how bad it would be!

Like Universities, there is a cartel of PhDs who promote and protect those like themselves, no matter their real value.
Just write some kind of gobbledygook occasionally.

Submitted by pantherpride on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:47pm.

Each county has a Training & Experience Factor that QBE uses in its salary calculations.

I haven't figured out how it calculates.

Submitted by fc1989 on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:39pm.

Fayette received $779,000 in Title I money in FY2007 according to the CAFR on the FCPS website page 74. I do not know how that compares to other systems. I do remember that East Fayette was a Title I school and this became an issue when EF was in the process of moving.
FY2008 CAFR has not been posted.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 10:01pm.

You are correct, I was off one line on those #$%^ 6 point font reports. I should have said Fayette receives less Federal money in total (inc Title I) (2%) than any other county school system in Georgia.

Some city and "special/charter" school systems do not receive any Title I funds.

Submitted by fc1989 on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:01pm.


I believe we came to similar conclusions from my ranking methodology and your peer group method. The areas that FCPS is out of line compared the rest of the state (or peer districts) are Instruction and School Administration. Since Instruction is 75% or more of the total cost per student and School Administration the third largest portion (calculated from 2/9/08 Agenda Item from Cost Cutting Appendix B), these areas have a great effect on total cost per student. Yes, School Admin includes Assistant Principals.

There may be two other factors that need to be considered in the number crunching. QBE funding may not be quite a level playing field when accounting for the local 5 mill share and equalization. The QBE net funding is based on the QBE formula less the local government paying 5 mills of the local digest. This amount will very greatly depending on whether the county is in a high growth period or stagnate. There appears to be a lag on the digest year and the QBE funding year which means that Fayette will have to pay a greater 5 mill share in FY2010 which will equate to reduced state revenue.

For example, according to the QBE allotments on the GA DOE website, Fayette County FY08 QBE formula is $116.0 million less 5 mill share of $23.9 million meaning FCPS must fund 20.6% of the QBE in FY08. In total local revenue for FCPS has been around 50% of the total budget. There are a lot of things that QBE does not cover. In FY09 Fayette earned $116.1 million in QBE less the $25.8 million 5 mill share for 22.2% of the QBE revenue. The local fair share is increasing $2.0 million at a time when all other revenues are decreasing compounding the issue.

Now I compare the QBE earnings to a neighboring county that is growing (Coweta) and a county that have moderate growth (Bibb) from your peer group. These two systems show the difference that equalization grants make. This is where the state takes QBE funding from the wealthy systems and distributes them to the poorer districts. I am not clear on how this is calculated.

FY 2008
District QBE 5 mill Eq. Net Local %
Fayette $116.0 $23.9 $0 $23.9 20.6%
Coweta $103 $18.4 $1.98 $16.4 15.9%
Bibb $121.7 $21.7 $2.2 $19.5 17.6%

FY 2009
District QBE 5 mill Eq. Net Local %
Fayette $116.1 $25.8 $0 $25.8 22.2%
Coweta $104 $20.3 $3.6 $16.7 16.1%
Bibb $121.1 $23.8 $2.5 $21.3 17.6%

What I am concluding from this is that Fayette County has to fund a greater portion of the state required level of education (QBE) than other school districts. I think you may find similar results in Henry and Muscogee. In fact, Muscogee’s local 5 mill in FY2009 is $21.9 million and the equalization grant was $31.1 million. In other words, other counties completely subsidized Muscogee’s 5 mills.

Those are not big holes in your calculations but something to think about.

Submitted by pantherpride on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:28pm.

Districts are required to levy the equivalent of at least five mills in property taxes as a basic local commitment.
All districts then have revenues equal to the “local five mill share” (LFMS) deducted from their total QBE earnings, and the state pays the balance of the earnings.
Georgia attempts to equalize the inequities in property wealth per student that exists in the state.
All 180 systems are ranked according to property wealth per student.
Lower 75% of districts, based on property wealth per student, then qualify to earn equalization grants.

Submitted by pantherpride on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:18pm.

Go to to see the lawsuit against the state of Georgia for not adequately funding the formula.

Also, don't forget about austerity cuts...also shown on QBE Reports.

Some QBE Reports show grant revenues for transportation...

BOE staffs well above QBE allotments - that's where the extra instructional money comes from: music, art, orchestra, additional parapros, additional media personnel, additional PE teachers

Nobody wants to give up the extra services and nobody thinks they should have to pay for them.

Submitted by fc1989 on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 9:29pm.

I know this forum is supposed to be about FCBOE budget but another issue with the state funding is the proposal to move the $100 gift cards to be included as part of the QBE funding. This is essentially a $160,000 cut in funding for FCPS. When they are so broke every $100k matters. I belive this is in the Governor's budget proposal.

Submitted by pantherpride on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 8:58pm.

Special Education is accounted for in the Weights for FTE Funding Formula

then go to QBE Reports.

Submitted by pantherpride on Fri, 02/20/2009 - 8:51pm.

Code Information

Activities designed to assess and improve the well-being of students and to supplement the teaching process. Activities include guidance, counseling, testing, attendance, social work, health services, etc. Also include supplemental payments for additional duties such as coaching or supervising extracurricular activities.

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