The choice: Higher taxes or lower expectations for schools

Is a time for a tax increase to keep our schools afloat?

Last night, parents crammed a DeKalb meeting protesting an end to magnet programs and theme schools. (I arrived for the end, but the place had been full of unhappy parents.)

Also, Cobb school superintendent Fred Sanderson told the school board Thursday night that teachers would need to take three furlough days this semester; Sanderson targeted Feb. 15 – there are no classes on that day — and wants to also apply the snow day earlier this month and the flood day in September. He said Cobb will not be able to turn to reserves to prevent furloughs this semester as it did in the fall. See the AJC story.

A few desperate districts outside of Metro are joining Peach County and adopting four-day work weeks. Others are dropping back to 160 days of longer classes.

In the last week, I have attended three hearings about education budgets. I don’t believe we can ask schools to sustain or improve quality of instruction at the same time that they are facing such crippling cuts. This is not a matter of getting rid of a few central office staff- which I think some systems could easily do. The cuts exceed a few personnel. They are colossal, and I just don’t see how they are not going to downgrade our classrooms.

We need a combination of responses – Yes, reduce expenses but also bring in new money. Yet, our Legislature is talking about more corporate and employer tax breaks.

Is it the time for that? Or should we follow the example of most other states and raise taxes?

Many of you disagree, but I think this a pivotal moment in the state’s history. We have to shed the reputation of an education backwater and signify in a clear way that we understand that the states that succeed in this new century will be the most educated, the most able to respond to change and the most willing to confront problems decisively and honestly.

Raising class size, cutting back on the school calendar and dumping teachers doesn’t seem to say any of that to the larger world, too much of which readily believes we are eating clay and marrying our cousins down here.

210 comments Add your comment

irisheyes

January 29th, 2010
8:21 am

I know this is going to sound unpopular, but I’m for a 1% increase in the state income tax. I know times are tough, but 1% would really be a minimal amount out of everyone’s paycheck. I think any money raised from that increase should immediately go to the schools. While I understand that some cuts are necessary, there’s only so far that systems can cut before there are some dire consequences.

Cobb Parent

January 29th, 2010
8:27 am

If they would let our school PTAs contribute to replacing funding lost from the state/county because of the budget crisis, I would be happy to contribute quite generously as I’m sure many others would also do.

Been There. . . Done, well. . . just done!

January 29th, 2010
8:36 am

I’m in agreement with “irisheyes”: SOMETHING needs to be done, if for no other reason than to turn back the budgets cuts wielded by “Smilin’ Sonny”. Perhaps cuts to the larger state DOE salaries (Kathy Cox’s included!) alone would recover thousands of dollars! In addition, state lawmakers should feel ashamed for not “volunteering” to take furlough days in the wake of teachers having to “go along to get along” & take them REGARDLESS of what they think/feel/want. Schools have been shafted for the last eight years PLUS, and trimming salaries at the top – along with axing certain district superintendants’ unwarranted bonuses & increases during these tough times – would be a good start! If some of these buffoons fight them and/or receive them without setting a good example, then what choice would there be but to request a tax increase?! From all appearances, the schools don’t seem to be getting help any OTHER way! And while some advocate private schools & using vouchers, this may provide temporary, isolated help in pockets, they aren’t larger, long-term solutions to the state’s public education system.

Don't think so...

January 29th, 2010
8:37 am

I am not in favor of income tax increase for school use. It would be so doubtful to me that it would actually go to the right place. I pay my property taxes each year, which go to our local school system, while paying for private school tuition so my kid’s education does not suffer while the state continues to make education cuts. I am fine with paying in towards the betterment of the kids around me with my property taxes, but I think that the shortfall should be made up by the people who use it. Start charging a per student fee back to the parents or have the parents agree to help out in some capacity. Put the burden on those that need the system instead of those making a different choice.

DeKalb Realtor

January 29th, 2010
8:52 am

DeKalb has no choice but to raise property taxes. We have enjoyed very low taxes for many years, but the drop in real estate values in parts of the county have crippled the tax base. Yes, the DeKalb BOE is bloated and top heavy, and should be trimmed back as well. I can promise you that the quality of the neighborhood schools GREATLY impacts property values and will more than make up for the increased property tax if the money goes towards the schools. Parent, you are equally charged with getting involved in your kids schools. Certain high schools that have coasted on reputation are seeing lower test scores due to parents thinking that the school can educate their kids with very little parent interaction.

Welcome to our little world of Dekalb

January 29th, 2010
8:57 am

Dekalb continues to do wasteful spending. Dr. Lewis just hired consultants to coach principals. The best solution to problem is consolidate the school with low enrollments. It is specially needed for the schools on the north end of the county. But parents need to realize that it cost more money to operate a facility with 400 and less students. It shouldn’t affect many jobs. These employees would just work in one facility.

But don’t take away the magnet and theme schools. These are the schools that excel above and beyond the national norms.

retired teacher

January 29th, 2010
9:07 am

I taught in Clayton……the Central Office staff could be cut in half and probably function better.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

January 29th, 2010
9:07 am

I am personally willing to pay more taxes to keep our schools good! We have excellent schools in our county and I don’t want that to slip. I would pay much more sending them all to private school. Teachers deserve to be paid at least decently -if not well — for their hard work! Our children deserve good teachers.

Joe

January 29th, 2010
9:09 am

I just LOVE the way government comes up to solutions to problems, but are NEVER willing to make any sacrificies themselves. How about furloughing Sonny Perdue and all his other useless overpaid cronies in Government to help cut the budget. The problem with government is they play by a different rule book than everyone else, have their own healthcare plan, social security plan, etc., Honestly Sonny Perdue doesn’t give a damn whether you are dying in a gutter as long as his security and finances are ok. WAKE UP AMERICA! Stop worrying about who is on American Idol while the government continues to pull the wool over your eyes and shaft you at every turn. Tell Sonny he can GO TO HELL!

MW

January 29th, 2010
9:13 am

I would be in favor of investing in our childrens education- we all can win if it happens. Can you imagine if the state had the best schools in the nation? I believe in our young. I believe in our teachers. I am proud of my son’s public education. I believe its an investment not a tax.

JF McNamara

January 29th, 2010
9:14 am

What we need to do is cut taxes to .000001%, then we will have unbridled growth and our revenue problems will be fixed. That’s a joke, but it’s an illustration the problematic populist Republican propaganda that got us here. Between that and the fact that all politicians don’t want to raise taxes because they believe they won’t be re-elected, we have a serious problem.

I think we need to raise taxes and get more money for our schools and other key programs. We need to be as efficient as possible and eliminate waste, but we also have to pay for what we want.

How about something else

January 29th, 2010
9:18 am

Why is the answer always money? Compare what we spend per child to what other states and counties do. If you include private schools it is even worse. Look at how much a new school costs. We spend a huge amount on those schools. Perhaps some money could be saved in other areas. How much do we spend on admin? Maybe procedures could be streamlined so that we didn’t need as many people.

At the same time, maybe we could cut the budget for NON-ESSENTIAL items. Politicians always say that if we don’t raise taxes the schools, police and fire will be cut. There is more to the state, county, and city payrolls than that.

dean

January 29th, 2010
9:18 am

I met 2 teachers from RI. They have to take 40 days unpaid this school year. BUT, they still come to school and teach. They aren’t happy about it but it’s what has to be done.

Tonya

January 29th, 2010
9:20 am

There are many different ways to raise revenues. Until the state is willing to overcome its religious zealotry, we will continue to be at the bottom of the heap. Increasing cigarette taxes, allowing Sunday alcohol sales, inviting casinos and parimutuel racing into the state, cutting the exemption to the elderly (I love them but everyone needs to chip in), or even a 1/2 to 1-penny sales tax increase so that even visitors to the state can help.

This cut will be to the marrow, as we are currently operating at the bone. Teachers will face official pay cuts, they won’t be buying supplies (as this is currently not funded in many counties and absolutely not by the state), and everyone will notice a difference in attitudes and classrooms next year and every year thereafter until budgets are restored.

JH

January 29th, 2010
9:21 am

School systems need to do the same thing families are having to do – look at their finances and cut out wasteful spending. It is a fact that there is too much overhead on the administrative end – from the executive offices down to the schools that are overloaded with multiple assistant principals.

Higher taxes OR lower expectations for schools is nothing more than an empty threat. Do your job and teach the children and learn to live within your means.

Maureen Downey

January 29th, 2010
9:21 am

Theresa, I have to jump in here to tell you how much I am enjoying your blogs entries on your renovation. I have never done a renovation – we just live with kitchen cabinets held together by ducktape. It sounds like there is as much work for the homeowner as the construction teams. (Theresa is the mom behind the Momania blog. Check it out here. http://blogs.ajc.com/momania/
Maureen

Tonya

January 29th, 2010
9:25 am

Dean:

And if you think that it won’t show in their attitude and effectiveness…I find it hard to believe. And comparing Rhode Island to GA…not even. Poor Rhode Island is a tiny state with a huge unemployment problem, horrible taxes, and an abysmally high cost of living. GA is not there yet, but sacrificing education quality could sure as heck land it in the same spot.

BOB FINK

January 29th, 2010
9:27 am

I RESIDE IN A COUNTY THAT DOES NOT EXEMPT ANYONE FROM SCHOOL TAXES. THERE ARE 90+ COUNTIES, INCLUDING COBB, THAT EXEMPT OUR AGED POPULATION FROM SCHOOL TAXES. ISN’T IT ABOUT TIME THAT WE CONSIDER THE FAIRNESS OF TAXATION, AND STOP BLAMING THE STATE GOVERNMENT FOR OUR FREE RIDE FOR BEING OLD? PS. I’M 75 YRS. OLD

PMC

January 29th, 2010
9:28 am

Vastly cut overhead just like a corporation would do. If you’re going to do more with less cut Administration jobs. Vice Principals are the easiest place to cut in virtually every modest sized school. It’s a superflous position. You could add another much cheaper secretary and get more out of the principal.

In lue of the regular end of year/term gifts, I hope people will just buy teachers a box of copy paper or some supplies. That’s what they really need.

The state needs to trim the fat like every corporation has done, middle management is the first to go everywhere and Administrative jobs have to be the primary target in Education and everywhere else in the state to save money.

PMC

January 29th, 2010
9:29 am

Instead of state income taxes we could also change the tax system to a consumption tax so then even visitors to the state would be paying into the system. Education funds are hurting because they are tied to property tax values which are vastly lower. You have to find those funds elsewhere.

teach1

January 29th, 2010
9:29 am

RI has one of the highest pay scales for teacher inthe US.

Howardh

January 29th, 2010
9:31 am

Sir…I am a retired teacher from Georgia living down here in Florida. My comments on the current educational fiscal crisis? First…I got out in 2001 and just in time. People were warning school boards that something bad was looming in the economy and that they had better brace themselves for tough decisions.
Second…school boards had bloated their budgets and central office staffs for years…starting back in the earli 1990s. You would be surprised just how many of so-called “necessary” and “indispensable” positions are absolutely useless to running an effective school system.
Third…for years schools have inflated athletic budgets with scheduling of more games, new stadiums, hiring more coaches, sanctioning more sports, paying high school football and basketball coaches outlandish salaries at many more schools than you think, etc.
Fourth…when that vaunted, liberal based idea of reduced class size was passed and more schools were being built everywhere it seemed…these school boards naturally had to hire more teachers for these new schools in order to ensure that every smaller class had a teacher. People in the education system were warned then too with the question: “If the economy tanks in the future, how are you going to pay for all these teachers and buildings?” Of course, idealistic educators pooh-poohed such suggestions. Now look where we are…
Lastly…as with any other big corporation, when it comes time to cut costs, the people on the lower end get zapped…in this case the teachers. Maybe the vaunted National Education Association with its plethora of touchy-feel good, left-wing, liberal ideas can come up with a solution. After all they backed Barack Obama…who through his incompetence and socialist ideology enabled the “chickens to come home to roost” for public education…wait, didn’t a “religious” man say that???

Maureen Downey

January 29th, 2010
9:34 am

How about something else, It is always money because 90 percent of school costs are teachers and staff and they are essential. (I do agree that the central offices in big systems could be trimmed, and that there ought to be a review of salaries of folks doing non-classroom jobs. I keep hearing about office admins making $74,000 in DeKalb because of how long they have been with the system. I am all for fair pay, but that seems high.)
I also want to again say that the top private schools charge as much as $20,000 a year tuition, Yes, there are small basement schools charging $5,000 a year, but they are not the ones sending kids to UVA or Duke. The average per pupil cost for students not receiving any special services is about $7,500.
Maureen

TooEasy

January 29th, 2010
9:36 am

It’s absolutely shameful how easy it is for many of you to spend other people’s hard earned money. And just FYI, when people are stretched as thin as they are these days, 1% is not a trivial amount, it is a significant amount. It would be ideal if you tax and spenders would realize that, but I guess you can’t fix stupid.

teach1

January 29th, 2010
9:40 am

Oh.. gee That is what I get for trying to post when I am in a hurry and have only five minutes before I have to pick up my students. I am so embarrassed. Sorry for all the typos/grammatical errors in the last post.

concern

January 29th, 2010
9:40 am

I am very concern about the school budget for next year. Something needs to be done. But don’t close the magnet schools and theme schools. An increase in property taxes may be the best solution. The employees are drained. They can’t keep taking furlough days. Raise taxes.

Here is the Answer

January 29th, 2010
9:41 am

When teacher furlough days happen when students are suppose to be in school and parents are affected by trying to find care for their kids, people will start to stand up and say something. But, as long as the state and local boards take furlough days when students are not in session, no one will care. How are we suppose to attract people to get in the teaching profession in college to only fire them or cut their pay due to lack of funds.

Get some fire under your arse

January 29th, 2010
9:42 am

Education as a whole has been getting the shaft for many years, even during the best of times. This is never going to change until teachers collectively get the balls to stand up for themselves and say enough is enough. Face it, teachers in Ga are as apathetic as they come. GAE and PAGE are all faux-unions that have the administrations’ best interest at heart, not teachers.

You can be grateful to have employment all day, I’m sure that goes without saying. But being grateful should not have to equate to taking a proverbial kick in the ass. Georgia teachers, grow a set and start advocating for your worth!

Name (required)

January 29th, 2010
9:44 am

How about we enact a Super Slowpokes traffic law? Anybody going significantly under the speed limit, or lane-hogging the leftmost lane and holding up traffic behind them are subject to a $500 first-offense fine. $1000 for the 2nd offense. This money could go towards the schools and based on my observations driving through the state it would be a LOAD of revenue. These idiots make the roads more dangerous for everyone, yet our misguided laws let them continue on

azcat225

January 29th, 2010
9:44 am

What irisheyes said, as long as we are guaranteed that the extra 1% goes strictly to education. I agree completely, Maureen—we are at a crossroads and while there are some areas of the budget that can still be cut (eliminate all vice principals sounds like a great start to me), we are very, very close to the marrow as we are already cutting into bone, as another poster pointed out.

JH

January 29th, 2010
9:47 am

The administration also need to do a better job policing who is attending their schools. It is a known fact that kids living in Dekalb will have their child shipped out to live with a relative in Gwinnett or Cobb for better schools. Gwinnett and Cobb need to do a better job getting kids that don’t belong in those systems OUT. I know for a fact of one family that has a relative living in their home where the childs parent actually live in Clayton County. If parents want better schools for there kids then they need to live there AND pay taxes there.

azcat225

January 29th, 2010
9:48 am

TooEasy, try making your point next time with logic and facts, instead of insults. Would likely be a tad bit more effective.

Get some fire under your arse

January 29th, 2010
9:48 am

Howardh, typed a lot but really said nothing. So easy to turn this into a partisan debate but as evidenced by your beloved governor, there is enough blame on both sides. Cut the crap.

Get some fire under your arse

January 29th, 2010
9:49 am

It would be “Too easy” to post insults rather than offer solutions.

clueless

January 29th, 2010
9:50 am

The best private schools I know of, including the one President Obama’s daughters attend, charge over $20,000 per year tuition, in addition to books and fees, and also have endowments that provide for some of their costs. If you want a world class education….

Get some fire under your arse

January 29th, 2010
9:53 am

Name @9:44- that $ would go toward housing more prisoners or maybe toward these imaginary road projects we continue to be taxed/tolled for. Definitely not the schools. Good idea, though. I’d volunteer to enforce.

I’d bet good $ that most property tax dollars are NOT going toward their intended use. I suddenly feel the urge to go fishing :-)

Get some fire under your arse

January 29th, 2010
9:58 am

Private school teachers make significantly less than public school teachers. Arguably better students being churned out (is that a result of parenting or teaching? :-) ), but they are definitely not making more $ despite their high fees.

RJ

January 29th, 2010
9:59 am

“Yes, there are small basement schools charging $5,000 a year, but they are not the ones sending kids to UVA or Duke.”

Maureen, where are the numbers to back that claim? My niece attended a very small school in Atlanta where most of the graduates attended top schools in the country, including Ivy League.

As an educator, I’ve been fortunate to work in a school system that has chosen not to furlough. We haven’t been given details regarding furlough days for next school year. Although we receive a minimal amount for class supplies, no funds will be available next year. I received less than $200 this year and I teach every student in the building. I will do my best to provide students with a quality education, but I can’t continue to spend as much as I have in the past.

There are so many positions in a school that could be cut to save money. Math, reading and Language Arts coaches are unnecessary. If every school has these positions imagine how much a school system could save. There are other unnecessary positions in personnel. These cuts should be done first, not teacher pay. A math coach is needed as a math teacher. There is always a math position available. School systems need to really cut the fat and do as most Americans are today by living within their means.

RJ

January 29th, 2010
10:03 am

“Yes, there are small basement schools charging $5,000 a year, but they are not the ones sending kids to UVA or Duke.”

Maureen, where are the numbers to back that claim? My niece attended a very small school in Atlanta where most of the graduates attended top schools in the country, including Ivy League.

As an educator, I’ve been fortunate to work in a school system that has chosen not to furlough. We haven’t been given details regarding furlough days for next school year. Although we receive a minimal amount for class supplies, no funds will be available next year. I received less than $200 this year and I teach every student in the building. I will do my best to provide students with a quality education, but I can’t continue to spend as much as I have in the past.

There are so many positions in a school that could be cut to save money. Math, reading and Language Arts coaches are unnecessary. If every school has these positions imagine how much a school system could save. There are other unnecessary positions in personnel. These cuts should be done first, not teacher pay. A math coach is needed as a math teacher. There is always a math position available. School systems need to really cut the fat and do as most Americans are today by living creating a budget and living within their means.

Leroy

January 29th, 2010
10:12 am

As hard as it is, the state will probably have to lower the base pay of teachers and local supplements will also get whacked to some degree. Like or not.

Maureen Downey

January 29th, 2010
10:14 am

RJ, Some of the top schools send out lists of kids from Georgia who will be part of their new freshmen class. Most of the private school kids going to UVA on the last list I saw were from Westminiter. I have seen lists for several Ivies, and they consistently draw from a handful of privates, most of which are in metro and cost a bundle. (These schools also take kids from the top public schools in metro Atlanta consistently as well.)

I talked to an admissions guy about this once and his explanation was that the small private schools have not been able to expand their AP offerings, so they are not producing graduates with 10 AP courses on their transcripts. The same problem exists for small, rural public schools as well. This may change as more AP content is offered online.

Maureen

jconservative

January 29th, 2010
10:15 am

The systems I was familiar with a few years ago had: Asst Supt (2), Asst Principals every school (2 in the high schools), a liason with local business with Asst Supt pay and a dir of public relations with Asst Supt pay.

And this is just what a casual observer could see. We can raise taxes after we trim fat.

You reap what you sow

January 29th, 2010
10:16 am

You know, in the 2002 election all you heard from these whiney ass teachers was how Roy Barnes had screwed the teachers by trying to eliminate tenure. Well how are things going for you now teachers? I don’t feel sorry for teachers especially the ones that voted for that idiot Sonny Perdue. Clearly education isn’t on Sonny’s “Do” list. When you put a Republican Crook in office(twice), you get what you deserve.

Maureen Downey

January 29th, 2010
10:21 am

jconservative, I would be curious if you know how many of those positions still stand today? Maureen

Jim

January 29th, 2010
10:22 am

It is no mystery why states like Georgia are always near the bottom in education. The people of this state want a top educational system but are not willing to pay for it.

Maureen Downey

January 29th, 2010
10:24 am

A question to all: If we get rid of assistant principals, deans of students and the like, won’t more classroom discpline problems have to stay in the classroom? There won’t be anybody in the office, presuming principals are moving more into the role of instructional leaders. There is also the issue of grant writing, which is a big job and which can pay off in big ways for schools. Who would handle all that paperwork?
Maureen

concern

January 29th, 2010
10:24 am

Get som fire under your arse,

Don’t be fool by private schools. These insitutions just want your money. Tutition pays salaries. Children are children they are same no matter where they go or live. The school won’t tell you when they misbehave because they might think that you will take your child out of their school. They will lose money.

Remember this when you choose a private school for your children. Always choose the private school that are SACS acredited and GA acredited, mostly SAC acredited. A lot of private schools aren’t SACs acredited Therefore your child will be entired to some of the same benefits as a public school. The teachers will be state certified and are required to hold a teaching certified. Private schools aren’t what you think they are.

What can we do? Something!

January 29th, 2010
10:32 am

My immediate family has 4 teachers, so it is not easy for me to say this, but they are employees of the state and their salaries are part of the overall budget that we as taxpayers pay for. No one wants to loose their job, make less money, or give up any more than they have to right now, but is that a choice any of us have? When times get tough you can’t just ignore it. I think the biggest burden on increasing the quality of education in this state and in this nation rests on the shoulders of parents! Parent involvement would help the most and cost the least. That’s why private schools do so well. Because parents want what’s best for their children (I understand we all can’t afford the $$) and parents being involved and teachers willing to work for less are the reason kids from private schools succeed far beyond kids from the public school systems.

Oldspartan

January 29th, 2010
10:34 am

i would not mind a tax increase if it went directly to teachers in the classroom. I do not want the State super taking helicopter rides to Dawson county on it.

Welcome to our little world of Dekalb

January 29th, 2010
10:38 am

Maureen
The people that don’t do anything now the people in the central office. The higher you go up the more pay and less work required. Let Dr. Lewis’ newly hired consulants take on those tasks. Better yet give it the person salary that makes $255k a year and his administrative asst. that make $74k a year. That’s more than most teachers salary who have been teaching for 20 plus years.