Turning the screws on local systems. Are all systems feeling the slash-and-burn pain?

The AJC has a big picture story on the cuts to school. It opens with this great set of lines: The state has cut $1 billion from education in just 19 months, inexorably turning the screws on local schools. Turns out that was just practice.

The story is a depressing litany of the proposed cuts to local systems. I am curious. Are there systems that can navigate through this recession without major cuts? (Someone sent me a note that Coweta is in better shape than most.)

Here are some details from the story about how deep and wide the cuts will go in the major metro systems:

The avalanche began when DeKalb County school officials said last month that the system would be short $88 million in its 2011 budget. Since then, so many other shoes have dropped, it’s starting to look like a Rack Room out there.

On Thursday, Cobb County schools said their shortfall would approach $100 million. On Friday, Gwinnett County schools gave the same report: $100 million short. Clayton County said it will be nearly $63 million in the hole; and Atlanta, $47 million. Fulton County has said its shortfall could reach $120 million.

DeKalb now says its gap could hit $115 million. Those systems alone are facing total cuts of more than a half-billion dollars.

Each metro school system has a different strain of the same virus, and each will have different ways of treating it.

Some are further along than others in determining — or at least in disclosing — the extent of their financial problems for 2011; all are working on the 2011 budget.

For example, Cherokee County schools haven’t set a budget for 2011, but Superintendent Frank Petruzielo said that elementary school arts, music and physical education programs are in the cross-hairs if cuts become necessary.

“If the choice is between cutting first-grade teachers or reducing the scope of programs in art and music and physical education, I don’t need to tell you which of those is going on the chopping block,” he said.

65 comments Add your comment


March 14th, 2010
7:26 pm

Cherokee shouldn’t be deciding between first grade teachers and music.art/pe teachers. They should be deciding between fat cat administrators and 1st grade music, art and pe teachers.
The choice is painfully obvious, but school superintendents just don’t get it.

bootney farnsworth

March 14th, 2010
7:50 pm

interesting how administrator positions aren’t listed as
being on the block.

nor athletic programs.

k teacher

March 14th, 2010
7:51 pm

School Superintendents don’t really care any more than Washington, Atlanta, county commissioners, city councils, school boards … their thoughts …. just don’t bother the pork.

bootney farnsworth

March 14th, 2010
7:53 pm

I don’t see any way of getting out of this without cuts.
There is too much fat, denial, and politics for this to end sensibily.

and still nobody wishes to discuss alternative ways to raise revenue.

bootney farnsworth

March 14th, 2010
7:54 pm

this has become a massive game of chicken. everybody is counting on the other side to blink.

Where are PAGE and GAE?

March 14th, 2010
7:54 pm

Are we once again seeing PAGE and GAE carry the water for the administrative interests that dominate those groups by maintaining silence on cutting the top heavy, bloated bureaucracy that weighs down public school system budgets?

The Tar and Feathers Party

March 14th, 2010
8:03 pm

Fire half the teachers, give the survivors a 20% PAY CUT.

bootney farnsworth

March 14th, 2010
8:06 pm

thanks to Tar & Feathers for illustrating just how far our education system has sunk. when we need serious thinking, we get stupid slogans

bootney farnsworth

March 14th, 2010
8:07 pm

so which half do you wish to cut?

Look at the logic

March 14th, 2010
8:16 pm

There’s no doubt, all things being equal, taking a teacher out of a classroom negatively affects students. There’s plenty of doubt that taking an administrator out of central office damages a student one bit, and it fact might even benefit the student by freeing the teacher from bureaucratic micromanaging and nonsensical paperwork.

No brainer where to look first for cuts.


March 14th, 2010
8:18 pm

We had a much needed workday this past Friday. Part of that time was spent in a faculty meeting looking at a Power Point showing the cuts that will be made to our system, not just this year, but for the next four years! Not a pretty sight. Unless this economy turns around soon, education is in for some rough times. Does anyone think those in Washington DC could have come up with a different way to stimulate the economy? And I am not just talking about for education, but for the entire economy. What they came up with did not work. Time for something else, though at this point, it may be too late.

Teacher-Mom in Cobb

March 14th, 2010
8:27 pm

Was this really a sentence in the article?
“Those numbers add up to unprecedented badness.”
It was, and it illustrates the need for English teachers.

Free Market Educator

March 14th, 2010
8:46 pm

Grandma is finally revealed to be the Big Bad Wolf. We have been living in a false economy since 1913, when that generation of politicians sold our country out to the bankers, aka: the Federal Reserve. Keynesian economics was designed to promote national debt as a way of life. With the Federal politicians free to borrow money financed on the backs of the next generation, there was no price too great to buy votes. And of course, the privately owned Federal Reserve was only too happy to crank up the fiat money printing press to generate for itself handsome profits from interest on money it didn’t own. The ignorant masses of Americans have proved P.T. Barnum correct. Ever since, the President and Congress have played the “Candy Man” and encouraged our addiction to debt. Free lunch? No problem. Free libraries, curriculum, teachers, sports stadiums, swimming pools, golf courses, science labs, theaters, planetariums, nurses, AP courses, field trips, teacher aids, computers, IT professionals, video equipment, ETS testing, cars, country club memberships, pension funds, posh new school buildings, special ed equipment, Lego robots, AV equipment, bus transportation? No problem. Georgia’s projected 2012 $3 BILLION DEBT? Well, maybe a slight problem. U.S.A’s $12.5 TRILLION DEBT? Ummm…I think its time to move to Singapore…..

Freedom Education

March 14th, 2010
9:28 pm

You are right Free Market Educator. I’ve been trying to get us back to a point of competition. I would like to see people like myself open schools. Parental choice would cause better education, because if the education is not what the parents want, they will take the money somewhere else.

Hank Rearden

March 14th, 2010
9:44 pm

Educationally speaking, you’d be better off getting rid of the lunch program than dropping PE. The mistake is lumping art and music in with PE. The kids already sit enough during the day.

I guess it’s not too hard to tell, up there in redneck Cherokee, that Chip Rogers’ kids go to private school.

Titanic is sinking

March 14th, 2010
9:53 pm

We can afford 10 days of the 180 contact days…. Why make our kids and teachers suffer 180 bad days. Let’s have the best 170 day year education.

The State of Georgia is broke.
It can’t afford to pay for 180 school days. It is 10 day short of money. Why not reduce school by about 10 days?

Hank Rearden

March 14th, 2010
9:56 pm

FreedomEducation.vox.com is a total cult.

Dekalb Administrator

March 14th, 2010
10:05 pm

Teachers need to suck it up and stop complaining. If the school board has to raise class sizes and cut teacher salaries, that’s life! I’m retiring in 3 years and they better not cut my pension. I’m hoping to get on with a private school system after retirement with some easy administrative job and get two paychecks every month!!!

To Hank:

March 14th, 2010
10:26 pm

Students move more in my elementary music classroom than they do in PE every day, AND we use creativity and problem solving skills. Wonder how many CEO’s played instruments? Research tells us chances are your doctor and your lawyer were members of the band.

more cuts are coming

March 14th, 2010
10:28 pm

From what I can tell, Coweta is in better shape than most school systems. They are dipping into reserves instead of passing on the three furlough days to teachers. However, even in Coweta I’m sure there will be more cuts. Last year they cut the parapros in the media centers and in elementary P.E. (And there was absolutly no warning that these cuts were coming – no chance to defend the positions.) They also cut many of the school tech positions. They did this last May so it will probably again be May or June before decisions are made public.

Who to Believe?

March 14th, 2010
10:47 pm

I’ve looked at the web pages for some of the top private schools in the Atlanta area, including Hebron Academy, The Lovett School, Pace Academy, The Westminster Schools, Wesleyan School, and Woodward Academy. I’ve noticed some similarities that I think are interesting, and some contrasts with public schools that I also think are interesting.

First, these schools pride themselves on small class sizes. They seem to try to have 16 or fewer students per class at the high school level. Many have student-teacher ratios of 10:1 or less. Meanwhile, those of us in the public schools are told that class sizes don’t matter, and they’re going to get larger, even though public high schools often have more than 30 students per class now.

Secondly, almost all of these schools include the percentage of faculty with advanced degrees prominently when touting the benefits of their schools. Years of experience and years at the school also seem to be important factors. I don’t really understand this, because the General Assembly has been telling public school teachers that those things don’t matter and don’t impact student achievement.

The private schools seem to think that educating the whole child is important, and in addition to their academic programs, highlight their arts and athletic programs, and sometimes community service. Public schools are supposed to be concentrating on the basics, and all those extras are being cut because they’re too expensive and the General Assembly says they are not really important anyway.

At least one of the private schools states that while they want a diverse student body, they aren’t really equipped to deal with students who aren’t fluent in English, and so will not accept such students. Public schools don’t have that luxury, nor do they have the luxury of turning away students with disabilities; if they aren’t equipped to deal with such students they must find the means.

Finally, all of these private schools charge in the neighborhood of $20,000 per year (most more, two slightly less) per student at the high school level, and books, fees, and transportation are usually additional costs. The average expenditure per public school student in Georgia, according to DOE figures, is $8,908.78, which includes books and transportation, and people say that public schools are spending entirely too much.

If those in the General Assembly wish to improve the quality of education in Georgia, perhaps they should look at the top-tier private schools and see what those schools do differently. It’s possible that if they would enable public schools to be more like “the best schools” there would be less perceived need for vouchers.

Chonga Mama

March 15th, 2010
12:22 am

Again- one more reason why I am grateful we can send our children to private school. It’s about parental choice.


March 15th, 2010
2:18 am

Why aren’t more cuts at the top? School systems here suffer from the SAME illness that corporate America suffers from – the fat cats at the top STILL get theirs even while everyone else is cut.

One small difference is that eduation is public money. Will the GA public allow this? Will everyone sit by and shake their head and say, “what a shame?” Or, will people complain loudly enough for the politicans (who, by the way, still get theirs) do something about this?

Each of us, individually, need to STORM the next school board meeting in your area and DEMAND for the top heavy to be cut to the bone BEFORE it impacts our children. Cutting teachers and increasing class sizes should NOT be an answer to anything.

If you sit idle and do nothing, then we can expect the worst.

Teaching in FL is worse

March 15th, 2010
5:28 am

Fantastic post, Who to Believe!

I am a product of private schools and have taught in public for 15 years. I have to endure behavior problems in addition to the other ones you mentioned (non-English speakers, etc.) I don’t ever remember kids in my classes sticking around very long if they go into trouble.

I also don’t remember spending 20% of my school week testing, either!

I DO remember hearing that my teachers barely made enough money to get by, though. (Of course some were nuns and brothers…..)

Teaching in FL is worse

March 15th, 2010
5:52 am

…oh, and did you see anything about parental involvement? I bet if I wrote a check in the neighborhood fo $20K, I’d be involved!!!!!


March 15th, 2010
5:54 am

Took a look at my 5th grade picture, about 25 years ago. 1 teacher, 25 students. Funny how we all managed to do pretty well with a ratio that today’s lazy teachers would call impossible.

To Grumpy

March 15th, 2010
6:38 am

I remember my classroom of 25 students too, and it did not include students who do not speak English, students who wear flip flops to school and no coat in the winter, students who do not have breakfast, students who cannot behave, and students who read three grades below grade level. That’s what my classroom looks like now – with 28 students. I won’t bother telling you how much time and money I spend on my job, you wouldn’t believe it anyway.


March 15th, 2010
6:59 am

Ladies and Gentlemen:

A point of order:

The State pays next to nothing for all those central office admins and sports programs y’all talk of wanting to cut. Those are, by and large, LOCALLY paid positions/issues.

The vast bulk of State money to local systems is in the form of teacher salaries.

Now, will the LOCALS decide to cut some of those admin positions/sports programs to save some teachers’ jobs? That is a LOCAL call – not one made by the General Assembly.

Who to Believe?

March 15th, 2010
8:24 am

Teaching in FL is worse, thanks. I think I’ll tweak it up and send it to my General Assembly members….

Gwinnett Parent

March 15th, 2010
8:25 am

Who to beleive-”I’ve looked at the web pages for some of the top private schools in the Atlanta area, including Hebron Academy, The Lovett School, Pace Academy, The Westminster Schools, Wesleyan School, and Woodward Academy, in all of these private schools charge in the neighborhood of $20,000 per year (most more, two slightly less) per student at the high school level, and books, fees, and transportation are usually additional costs”

Hebron is less than $7,000/yr. That’s a lot less than $20k. Then again, it’s no Woodward.

Gwinnett Parent

March 15th, 2010
8:40 am

Grumpy-Back in the day we had separate classes for LD as well as a class for the students with severe special needs. Yes, they pull the 2 tails of the bell curve out of class for an hour or so each day. However, there are 7 hours in a school day. In a first grade class a teacher can have one student that is still learning the alphabet sitting next to one that is reading Harry Potter. On top of that, include political correctness, less recess, entitlement attitudes,
excessive testing, and more children being diagnosed with mental conditions(bi-polar and depression). Also, let’s not forget the fear of some student forgetting his meds. and going on a rampage.

Who to Believe?

March 15th, 2010
8:52 am

Gwinnett Parent, you’re right! I found the wrong Hebron Academy’s web page: http://www.hebronacademy.org/admissions/affording/

The one in Maine looks like an excellent school….And the one in Georgia (http://www.hebronlions.org/index.html) also looks like a nice school. I notice that the class sizes are a bit larger than the others, and “HCA does not offer programs for students with special academic or behavioral needs.”


March 15th, 2010
9:10 am

I would like to hear superintendents talk of cutting the fat in their own offices before talking of teacher/school program cuts.


March 15th, 2010
9:24 am

Henry has a 45 million shortfall out of a 310 million dollar budget. The BOE has presented at our local high school. we are loosing CO staff, elementary art and music staff, maybe high school orchestra, maintenance staff, social workers, para professionals, 110 classroom positions, technology support staff, 8 furlough days…. it goes on and on.


March 15th, 2010
9:49 am

Gwinnett parent, the kid reading Harry Potter is supposed to sit next to the one learning the alphabet. The teacher is teaching to the lower middle so she has to rely on the Harry Potter reader to teach the other kid his alphabet b/c she has no time to deal with either of them. Plus the only way to close the “achievement gap” is to make the Harry Potter reader waste time teaching the alphabet all day. The Harry Potter reader doesn’t progress, the alphabet learner does… the gap closes.

It’s easy and cheap.

Free Market Educator

March 15th, 2010
9:51 am

Currently, our home school is not suffering any cutbacks. In fact, we are INCREASING our spending. Our children continue to enjoy a 1/1 student ratio. We just finished participating in a fine arts festival completely funded by home school parents. It included singing, piano, drama, dance, multimedia, photography, CGI, origami, painting and drawing, and the culinary arts. What a fantastic evening! Most successful home school families practice the art of frugality. Many have no mortgages or car payments. Most tithe to their church and are involved in charitable work. Because of this, there is cash to pay for these so-called extras. Most of the children test in the above average range on the ITBS. I hope some of you with children in the financially strapped government schools will give home schooling a try. The principles of money management laid out in the Bible are relevant and they work!


March 15th, 2010
9:54 am


There is no data whatsoever to indicate that a private school education is better than a public school education. What is taught in the classroom is the same content.

The difference is that for SOME public schools, the culture is not the “normal” upper class white society. While in MOST private schools, that culture does exist because those are the folks that can afford it!

Because of this, there is likely more behavior issues in public schools. Also, another reason is that unlike private schools, public schools cannot just kick out a student from the school. Public schools are required to educate everyone.

If private schools were held to the same standards and requirements as public schools, I wonder which would fair better?


March 15th, 2010
10:01 am

FreeMarketEducator, one year I had 3 unwed mothers in one particular class. All were 16-17 years old, and all were designated as either “slow learners” or “mildly retarded”….how well do you think their children would do if they were homeschooled?

(I’m glad you are happy with homeschooling, and I know some people do it very successfully. It’s not the answer for all children.)


March 15th, 2010
10:27 am

@Who to Believe? – comparing the best private schools in the state to the average public school really is akin to comparing Clayton State College to MIT. There are many differences between private schools and public schools; greatest among those differences is that private school children are a self-selected group whose parents who go out of their way to extraordinary lengths to further the education of their child.

However to answer your question of “why do private schools tout a small class size” – the answer is that while research shows that smaller class sizes beyond elementary grades do not affect learning, smaller class sizes in a $20K per year private school does attract more paying customers and make them feel better about the education of their child. Those premier private schools tend to offer a lot of “extras” to attract customers.


March 15th, 2010
10:48 am

Private schools are able to hand pick their students, public schools are available to everyone. There are some awesome public schools in the state of Georgia. There are also some outstanding small private schools that don’t charge $20K a year. One of the issues in public school is that they have to meet the needs of the masses. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to do in today’s society. All special education students should not be mainstreamed. It’s unfair to the other students. Students should be grouped homogeneously. I am the paent of child that was always a teacher’s helper. He started Pre-K reading and doing simple math. Instead of pushing him ahead, they made him a class tutor. This happened year after year. In the end I decided to put him in a private school that met his needs.

@Reality you are dead on about the data regarding public and private school students. It’s about the quality of the students, not the school. This is why public schools in affluent areas have outstanding test scores and those in poor areas do not. There’s no real way to close that achievement gap without parental involvement.

Freedom Education

March 15th, 2010
10:58 am

Individual choice is what a republic is all about, not the collective good (democracy) which leads to socialism.

Bell Curve

March 15th, 2010
11:34 am

Free Market: Just let me say that on behalf of teachers everywhere we are glad you home-school your children. Do you truly believe the things you write or do you just want to elicit a response? I suggest you move away from Fox, quit worshipping at the altar of Limbaugh and join the real world.

Hall County

March 15th, 2010
11:43 am

Interesting how my comments about Gwinnett 92 million shortfall aren’t still on the page????

1. Wasted tens of millions of dollars on a duplication of a state test (GATEWAY)

2. Wasted tens of millions of dollars on a palace (ISC)

3. Waste tens of millions on a BLOATED Central office staff of ineffective former administrators- as the saying goes, “old administrators never die, they just go to central office”

Bet they wouldn’t be 92 million in the hole if they had some leadership


March 15th, 2010
11:44 am

There is some good data regarding the public and private school debate. Fortune magazine did an in-depth study regarding academics, acceptance to Ivy League schools, arts, athletics, behavior and more. Their conclusion? They stated, “If you live in the suburbs and you are sending your kids to private school you are probably wasting your money.”

Home schooling? I’m sure there are some success stories, but I am much more familiar with the failures. Some neighbors did a successful job with it, but their son once toldme how much he wished he could go to “regular” school. His parents sent him for a while and he said it was “Awesome.” They withdrew him because he was getting sent to the principal’s office every day. (He didn’t know how to act without his mom around)

I cannot imagine how I would have taught my children the beauty of Shakespeare, the deeper applications of calculus, how to draw in 3-D, Latin, the proper footwork for blocking on the offensive line and how to get along with people who come from dozens of other cultures. Thank God my kids got all of that and more in public schools.

V for Vendetta

March 15th, 2010
12:00 pm

And herein lies the rub:

Although government consistently fails at nearly everything it tries (I’ll give it some credit for the whole national parks thing; that was a good move), a completely free and laissez-faire economy comes with certain caveats that must be accepted before implementation. Personally, I lean towards the free economy viewpoint; however, I acknoweledge that there is currently no answer for the problem of children. What do I mean?

It is quite simple. If you put everyone in charge of his or her own education (or, more appropriately, the education of hir or her children), you will inevitably be consigning many children to a life of ignorance, poverty, and death. People who do not value education and who see no reason to push their children to value it will sink even lower in a free market system. Though the quality might be better for some, the depths to which others will sink will be no less than shocking.

The only alternative would be to take the children away, but I don’t think I need to tell you what a disasterous road that would be down which to travel–not to mention, who decides such things and who pays for such things?

I agree with Freedom Education: “Individual choice is what a republic is all about, not the collective good (democracy) which leads to socialism.”

As a big fan of Ayn Rand, I firmly believe that individual rights trump everything else. There is no collective and their is no singular entity of society–there are only individuals and groups of individuals who work together to support their best interests. But Ayn Rand never addressed the “problem” of children in her philosophical beliefs, probably because she never had any. They remain the X factor.

End School Now

March 15th, 2010
12:08 pm

Why do we even need public schools? Eliminating the requirement from the Georgia Constitution could save millions of dollars in property tax. It would also end the need for Special Local Option Sales Tax aimed toward education. 50% of the state budget would be eliminated allowing for more funding to flow to other programs. There would no longer be a need for; local school boards, State School Superintendent, state school board, department of education, professional standards committee, governor’s office of student achievement, General Assembly committees on education, title 1, free/reduced school lunch programs, CRCT testing, end of course testing, graduation testing and countless other things.

Sarah H

March 15th, 2010
12:13 pm

How are the cuts affecting the smaller systems?


March 15th, 2010
12:18 pm

I don’t see APS doing much cutting. They strong-armed the City Council into a 42% increase in the millage rate instead, and have a big slush fund to draw on. I don’t see them doing much saving, either – Beverly Hall clearly intends to shove another tax increase down the property owners’ throats next year. I think she’ll have some problems after being exposed as a cheater.


March 15th, 2010
1:09 pm

End school now…I am sure you were just starting a Swiftian Modest Proposal-type satire. To give me peace of mind, could you finish your entry?

Free Market Educator

March 15th, 2010
4:46 pm

“There is some good data regarding the public and private school debate. Fortune magazine did an in-depth study regarding academics, acceptance to Ivy League schools, arts, athletics, behavior and more. Their conclusion? They stated, “If you live in the suburbs and you are sending your kids to private school you are probably wasting your money.”

How do you know the Fortune Magazine article contained “good data”? On what independent analysis of their methods of research and data collection do you base your opinion? Parents opt out of government schools for different reasons. Can the government schools provide a Christian education? Didn’t think so. How about a Muslim or Hebrew one? Only private or home school could provide this. Aren’t G.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and B.H. Obama products of “Ivy League” schools? Why would acceptance to these schools be a parameter of success? As far as the arts, my zoned high school has ONE fine arts teacher for the entire high school, and can only offer Studio art I and II. This school is in the suburbs. My home schooled children excel in the arts; one even has a piece showcased by Origami USA in New York. Our home school cross country team defeated all private schools and won State five years in a row. Good behavior in public schools?????? Can you say Columbine 1 and 2? (a nice suburban high school). How about school laptop peeping Toms? (nice suburban high school). And of course Forbes didn’t mention the ghetto public schools. I wonder why? After all, the legal premise for government schools is equal education for all. Why isn’t this happening? They’ve been at it since the late 1800’s. Before all states enacted compulsory education laws, Andrew Jackson was the only president to pay off the national debt. After public schooling began nationally, the national debt began to grow and is currently a hockey stick graph. Our national debt is now $12.5 TRILLION! Given that a majority of the population went to government schools, wouldn’t you take that as an indicator of UTTER FAILURE? Home school students SAVE the taxpayer money ($10,000 per child/year) and contribute tax dollars to educate others’ children. I don’t believe I’ve received your thank you note yet. Government handouts tend to produce ingratitude.