With a demand for public services up due to growth in Georgia and the downturn in the economy a balanced strategy of spending cuts and targeted tax increases is needed to provide vital services. The Newton County Board of Education supports the General Assembly’s developing a state tax policy which addresses the continued erosion of the State Revenue Base. We support measures in the General Assembly to place a moratorium upon subsequent introduction and passage of tax legislation which reduces the state revenue base until such a tax policy can be adopted, which responsibility considers the state’s revenue production potential and the state’s ability to adequately meet its funding obligations to each department of government. A review is needed of tax exemptions from sales and use tax, income tax and other revenue producing state taxes as well as increasing revenues through targeted areas such as alcohol, tobacco, sodas, vehicles and business services. Recommendations for such a tax policy should be based upon sound data and research that supports reform that will bring about a tax system that yields adequate funding, is fair, is stable and is transparent. Until such recommendations are forthcoming, and realizing that the maintenance of a sound tax structure is necessary to ensure adequate revenue generation to support and improve Georgia’s schools, the property tax should continue as the fundamental element in financing education. However, for the QBE funding formula, which is based upon the relative “wealth” of the various school districts, the formula should not only consider average real estate property values, but also the average per capita income, percentage of students on free and reduced meals and the number of taxpayers who live near or below poverty income. In addition, we urge the General Assembly to publish annually a Tax Expenditure Report that lists all exemptions or credits currently authorized and their cost in potential revenues. We do not support the following initiatives which will negatively impact local and state revenue.
- Any resolution to eliminate local ad valorem property taxes for education and replace them with a sales and use tax;
- Efforts which would severely limit the amount of tax revenue that state government could collect and spend and;
- Limits of the rate of increase in the ad valorem tax mill rates and the property value to a certain percentage per year, or to limits to the rate of economic inflation, or to freezing property values at the purchase price.
Given the revenue short fall and their effects for the supplemental budget of 2010 and the budget of 2011, any revenue cuts or furloughs enacted for 2010 need to be made known to school districts by Jan. 28, 2010, so that word calendars can be adjusted to furlough additional word days, if student days of instruction are not reduced.
3. Continuation of Waivers of Selected Title 20 and Title 50 laws
During this economic downturn which adversely affects state and local funding and thus the operation of the local school district, we support legislation and/or rule changes by State Board of Education which would continue to allow during the 2011-2012 school year the waivers of selected requirements. Waivers of requirements such as: maximum class size requirements for regular education, gifted, remedial education classes and early intervention classes; and instructional extension will ease the adverse effects of loss of revenues on the financial operation of the school district.
4. Capital Outlay – Regular and Exceptional Growth Entitlements
We support continued funding at the $200 million level for regular entitlement capital outlay projects and at the $150 million level for projects developed to accommodate “exceptional growth” needs of appropriately qualified Georgia school systems. The “exceptional growth” provision for funding is to sunset, June 30, 2010. In addition, we oppose legislation which would redefine statutory requirements for “capital outlay for educational purposes” to include expenditures for non-educationally related projects such as street, bridge, utility and similar improvements.
5. Local Authority of Board of Education
We support the authorization of a legislative study committee to examine governance issues in Georgia public education, particularly concerning the impact of recent legislative and administrative changes regarding the status of Georgia’s constitutional requirement that “each school system shall be under the management and control of a board of education…”Further, we do not support any attempts to usurp the authority of local boards to determine how local funds are allocated. We support the repeal of the Classrooms First for Georgia Act that requires 65 percent of federal, state and local funds to be spent on a narrow definition of classroom instruction.
6. Appropriation of Funds for Education Resources and Textbook
We support funding of QBE formula allocations to cover actual costs for consumable materials and supplies, replacement of instructional equipment, textbooks, media materials and the actual cost of textbooks, including texts and instruction materials online and/or other electronic formats. As an example, in grades one through three for textbooks, $33.26 is allocated per weighted student FTE. Only $3.11 is allocated for equipment-copiers, furniture, instructional equipment and technology, including computers.
7. Maintenance, Operation and Transportation (MOT) Funding
We support the increase of funding for maintenance and operation and transportation as part of the total cost of education in order that environments conducive to learning may be provided. There exists a drastic difference in the level of state funding for MOT compared to the actual costs to local school systems. Systems have only recently been notified in late October of furloughs of transportation staff of three days, now a further cut either to be taken by reducing the school for these employees and thus reducing the student year or absorbing the cost of cut by the local BOE by cutting elsewhere. The difference in funding level and actual costs causes increases in local property taxes, the only source of revenue local board have for this purpose.
8. Waivers for Acreage
We support the General Assembly in its efforts to endorse waivers of the State Board of Education Rules outlining minimum acreage requirements for school construction. Action on the part of the General Assembly that will facilitate the approval of waivers is needed for waiver of minimum acreage requirements for school construction, recognizing the value and availability of suitable property for school construction and the systemic growth initiatives in various communities.
9. Charter Schools Commission
We oppose the existence and actions of the Commission on Charter Schools (CCS). During the 2008 legislative session, a statue was approved and signed into law which appears to be in conflict with provisions of the Georgia Constitution regarding the authority of the locally elected board of education to control, manage and raise local funds only for public schools under their change. The Newton County Board of Education believes that the Commission on Charter Schools’ authority and actions are in conflict with the authority of local boards of education. When local boards of education review charters for schools in their area, they may approve or reject the granting of a charter. When rejected locally but approved by CCS, the establishment of that charter school requires the local board of education to relinquish a share of its local revenue received from taxpayers for support of school students now not under its charge. Surrendering local revenue assessed for students not covered by the control and management of the local board appears to be a conflict.
10. HB 251 Opposition
We oppose any additions/amendments to HB 251 that will restrict local control in defining available space in schools for the purpose of granting school choice. The issue of defining available space for the purpose of granting choice is a complex on that must take into consideration the unique facets of each local community/school/LEA and include but not limited to: the rate and population growth in the community, the LEA’s status related to AYP and federal choice and how transient the student population is within the LEA.
"Each year in the past we have had our legislators in and have made a presentation of the items the board has seen fit to adopt as priorities but this year, we’ve decided to do things a little differently," said Newton County School System Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley, with a smirk at Tuesday night’s Board of Education work session.
"Instead of bringing the legislators in we are going to have approximately 20,000 brochures printed and given to students and mailed, and those will have the legislative priorities and the contact information about how you can get in touch with your legislator regarding these priorities," Whatley continued. "They will be posted on our Web site and we will use school messenger to call the parents and say ‘please look at these priorities, they are important for your child’s education,’ as opposed to bringing someone in and making a presentation and hearing about the common plight we know we have. Let’s move on from the common plight we have and do something about the issues."
After attending Georgia School Boards Associations meetings in both the summer and fall, board members decided on the top 10 issues that most affect Newton County in policies, procedures and funding as determined through legislative action.
One of the most important to the board is tax reform, policy and impact. According to the prepared priorities "a review is needed of tax exemptions from sales and use tax, income tax and other revenue producing state taxes as well as increasing revenues through targeted areas such as alcohol, tobacco, sodas, vehicles and business services… Until such recommendations are forthcoming, and realizing that the maintenance of a sound tax structure is necessary to ensure adequate revenue generation to support and improve Georgia’s schools, the property tax should continue as the fundamental element in financing education."
"We feel that until a fair, sound tax policy is enacted by the state and they have reviewed it and decide what is necessary for operation of the state government and its local entities they not mess with us," said Whatley. "And that they leave the taxing authority and wealth support for the districts as it is. They need to be very cognizant of the actions that they take in the way of exemptions and credits that effect the revenue stream when in an economic downturn hurts all the state agencies, but more important, the services that are provided by those agencies."
The board also believes that revenue shortfalls, continuation of waivers of selected Title 20 and Title 50 laws and capital outlay are important to the system. The board supports the authorization of a legislative study to examine the governance issues in public education and opposes "any attempts to usurp the authority of local board to determine how local funds are allocated."
The appropriation of funds for education resources and textbooks is another concern since some books can run upwards of $200 and only $33.26 is provided (per weighted student FTE) for textbooks in grades one through three. Also, only $3.11 is allocated for equipment, such as copiers and instructional equipment, including computers.
Maintenance, operation and transportation funding is important to the board, especially in light of the furlough days that will effect transportation staff that the board was notified of in late Oct.
"…Now a further cut [is required] either to be taken by reducing the school year for these employees and thus reducing the student year or absorbing the cost of cuts by the local BOE by cutting elsewhere."
The board also supports waivers for acreage but opposes both the Charter Schools Commission and additions or amendments to HB 251 that will restrict local control of public schools.
"We have a great disconnection with the parents of our kids about what the legislature is doing with education," said BOE Vice-Chair Cathy Dobbs. "We are hoping that we can awaken a sleeping giant and that people can become aware of the decisions they are making about the local school systems.
"Georgia has one of the lowest tax rates of the nation and we can’t attract industry if we’re one of the lowest ranked in education," Dobbs continued. "You get what you pay for and we really need to think about how we can go about improving our educational system. I hope some leaders can step up and that we will see some real leadership come out of the gold dome this year."