A populist proposal for our school budget woes

Cal Beverly's picture

The purpose of this column is to facilitate a detailed — but anonymous — critique of the Fayette County School System’s leadership.

While I might differ on particulars, I endorse the general thrust of the following writer’s argument: Our school system can get along with fewer highly paid chiefs and assistant chiefs. If anything, I would cut deeper into the central office kingdom, not mentioned below.

The following is part one of a two-part prescription for getting at the heart of our school system’s trouble. Though I know who the writer is, the writer asks to remain anonymous. I understand the reason. Hold me responsible for what follows:

A school administration we cannot afford

I must respond to Ben Nelms’ recent attempt to adjudicate the exorbitant salary of Fayette County School Superintendent John DeCotis. To compare DeCotis’ salary with other overpaid administrators in the Atlanta area is hardly justification.

In fact, administrator salaries have risen across the board in recent years, the result of school districts being awash in cash from a rapid rise in property assessments and high QBE (Quality Basic Education) state funding.

This has generated a “club” of overpaid executive wannabes similar to what we’ve found in corporate America. Today, with school budgets in the red, these high salary levels must end throughout the state, and I say it begins here in Fayette County.

Dr. DeCotis blames our budget shortfall largely on cuts in state funding. The only actual reduction has been in state QBE funding, which goes directly to district superintendents to spend as they please.

This has been more than compensated for with an increase in state funding that goes directly to our schools.

The result is a net GAIN of state funding per student, according to state budget records and our state representatives.

With $11 billion of our $20 billion state budget going to education, Gov. Sonny Purdue’s strategy is to inject funding directly into our schools and bypass school district administrations that have used state funds to hire even more administrators and fuel exorbitant administrative salaries, as approved by their docile BOEs. Apparently even our governor recognizes the problem.

Moreover, our school district has thus far not applied for state IE2 standards that will release our district from Title 20 mandates and allow it to run more efficiently (thus saving big $$) while improving the quality of education of our children. Gwinnett County School District will adopt this standard in July, and Forsyth County has also applied for it.

Rather than blaming the state, it’s evident that our current school budget crisis was born in large part to a district that has become bloated with overpaid administrators who have unfortunately mismanaged taxpayer funds and grossly miscalculated growth, resulting in a very expensive overbuild of school infrastructure.

To compensate for this, we’ve just endured another substantial property tax increase, raising our total property tax burden by roughly 25 percent over the past five years with 83 percent of these taxes going to our school district.

DeCotis and the FCBOE also pushed hard for an ESPLOST that will add a 1 percent tax to most everything you buy, including items not previously taxed.

He then asked the commissioners’ office to rebill taxpayers for even more in an economy where our property values have declined and where many families are in deep financial crisis.

As evidence of this, our jobless rate has jumped 56 percent from last year, which places 7 percent of our fellow citizens out of work. Many of us who remain employed have experienced large pay cuts and are living paycheck to paycheck.

Moreover, our beloved seniors who live on fixed incomes have seen their nest eggs decimated by the stock market, cutting their interest income in half.

In my humble opinion, now is hardly the time or place to raise taxes again to help sustain exorbitant school administrative salaries.

Unable to squeeze more from the taxpayers, DeCotis then asked our hard-working teachers to forego a nominal 2.5 percent raise while he enjoyed a $24,000 or 12.6 percent pay raise last year (with yet another large raise slated for 2009).

He then threatened layoffs of people who interact directly with our kids, benefit cuts of those remaining and school closures unless his insatiable appetite for tax dollars could be slaked.

In the military, I was trained to lead by example, but John DeCotis is apparently more in the “do as I say, not as I do” camp.

Of his own volition, he has not volunteered to concede any of his pay or extremely generous benefits and retirement package during this school budget crisis.

Instead he has suggested cuts and layoffs to those who work directly with our children while he and his administrators enjoy substantial incomes.

Only recently and under pressure from active citizens like Kim Learnard did the FCBOE approve a 4.5 percent across-the-board pay cut (along with many other cuts), but $5.8 million in savings remains to be found in order to make our school district solvent.

I hope that you can also understand that I must remain nameless as I further this campaign to protect my children from being vilified in the school system.

Name withheld by request

Next week in this space: Specific suggestions on pay and positions.

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Submitted by Doug on Wed, 04/01/2009 - 10:09pm.

Dr. DeCotis needs to go. The sorry board members have transformed our once great system to a money bleeding disaster.

I can't wait to start paying the new school sales tax!

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Tue, 03/31/2009 - 5:57pm.

Yes, I've read the gov is disgusted and wants the money to get to the kids. That is where we wanted/thought it was going too, right?

Take a good look at who you put on the BOE,

How complete emotionally are these people?

What is their background in education?

If, they have one,

Who are they married to?

Can anything be gained by the family?

Why did we cater to the developers? Why not to our kids

Why don't we have any money?

How much did the schools in cow pastures cost us?

Why can we now ..not..afford computers?

Are you getting the idea?

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