The Newton County School Board presented its legislative issues to State Sen. John Douglas and State Rep. Doug Holt at its Dec. 9 meeting.
"We have, as has been the tradition of the last few years, have legislators here at the board meeting to discuss with them and present to them our issues regarding authority, legislation, funding issues that greatly affect the Newton County Schools," said Superintendent Steven Whatley.
Whatley said the board was most concerned with issues that focused on local power, the economy and taxing that provides funding for education from the state and local levels.
"The board has deliberated over these issues for a while and they were passed by the board at the Nov. 18 meeting. We realize that there is a state and local budget crunch." Whatley said. "…And when we receive cuts and we’ve been told to expect anywhere from a 2 percent cut or more in this fiscal year’s budget, which means that we could lose from operation right now $2 million or more. So it is a major concern for us as we face this year."
Maximum class size requirements
The school board said it supports legislation that would increase the current maximum class by three students or an effort to roll back the maximum class size to the 2006 fiscal year requirement. The board also asked that a waiver be approved for class sizes that exceed the current maximum of 20 students.
"We don’t want to pack kids in like sardines, that’s not our intention. But realizing that one student can cause, without waivers, can cause a class to be over would necessitate space and a teacher, and those are expensive items," Whatley said.
The board supports tax reform which is fair, adequate, stable and transparent. It also asked that the QBE (quality basic education) formula, which is used to decide on funding for each school district, take into consideration average per capita income, percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, and the number of taxpayers who live near or below the poverty level. The current formula is based on average real estate property values, said Whatley.
State tax policy
The board supports a tax policy that addresses the continued loss in the state’s revenue base as a result of tax exemptions. The board also supports a moratorium on future legislation that further diminishes the revenue base until a policy can be adopted that addresses its impact.
"We can’t keep removing sources of income through some sort of tax (cut) and still provide services for transportation, for education, for health and so forth," Whatley said.
Impact of tax legislation
Whatley said the board does not support any resolution to eliminate ad valorem taxes for education, legislation that would limit the amount of tax revenue the state could collect and spend nor property tax freezes.
"What we are concerned about is that at this time, where there are a lot of foreclosures, and the value of property is down, then the amount of money a mil assessment brings in is a lot less. So if it’s frozen at this level and is maintained at this level, then it becomes increasingly difficult, when expenses are increased, to get money as revenue," Whatley said.
Authority over local funds
The board does not support legislation that determines how local funds are used and it does support legislation that repeals the Classrooms First for Georgia Act, which determines how 65 percent of funds received by school systems are spent.
"When we talk about salaries, those are made up, for certified folks, what they earn based on their teaching certificate and years of experience plus a local supplement that we add to. And we have to be competitive with the likes of Rockdale, Walton, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties in attracting staff. So, that is extremely important to us," Whatley said.
Currently, 53 percent of NCSS’ budget comes from state funds, while the other 43 percent is picked up locally.
The board supports a study of governance issues in Georgia’s public education with a particular focus on the role and authority of the local board of education.
"There has been a major concern in the past year regarding the conduct of certain boards of education in other metro districts, and we don’t want everybody to be penalized for one particular one," Whatley said. "So whenever this comes up, we would ask you to look very carefully so that there is preservation of the power and responsibility of the local board of education in the management and control of the district."
The board supports funding at the $200 million level for construction projects and $150 million level for projects that address exceptional growth needs in the system. The board opposes legislation that would require these funds be spent on non-education related projects, such as street, bridge and utility projects that are required when a new facility is built.
"We still have to build schools because this recession is going to end and there are a lot of unsold houses that will be picked up and when they do, they will most likely have children that we need to house as they receive an education," Whatley said.
The board does not support vouchers or other initiatives that use public education money to fund private schools or home school programs.
Funding for educational resources and textbooks
The board supports a change to the QBE formula to cover the actual costs of instructional material and textbooks. Currently, the district receives about $33.26 for each student in grades 1-3, yet the cost to the district is more than $100 per student, Whatley said.
"The costs in the formula allocated to the district have not kept up with the actual cost," Whatley said.
Maintenance and operation funding
The board supports an increase in funding for maintenance and operations. Whatley said the district received $298 per student before the cuts in the budget, but the average cost for maintenance and operations in the state was $651 per student in fiscal year 2007.
"This difference is something that we bear locally in that 43 percent, which will change as the state’s percentage decreases," Whatley said.
Whatley said it was necessary to bring these issues to legislator’s attention since the board would not be doing its job if it didn’t advocate on the behalf of the students and staff of NCSS.