A parent raised an issue at the DeKalb school board meeting that merits more discussion here: Rather than increase class sizes, the parent said the county should cut athletics. “There’s no point in training student athletes when they can’t read or write or get a job,” she said.
As a parent, I have to agree. But I also have two kids who chose sports — tennis and volleyball — that are largely played outside of school in tournaments and club leagues. So, I am already paying for their sports. My older two played only school-based sports, and it was a lot cheaper.
As we have discussed on this blog, Finland, the model du jour for U.S. schools, does not offer school-based sports teams, relying on community programs to provide them. (A reader from Finland wanted me to note, however, that the Finns are very health oriented and their schools offer vigorous PE classes that utilize public parks for running, public ice skating rings for skating and public ball fields for Finnish baseball. The schools do indoor sports — strength training, basketball, volleyball – during winter. “Also we have mandatory recess several times a day when kids go out, rain or shine, and no matter how cold it is,” said the reader.)
When the reform committee formed by Gov. Roy Barnes looked at the dismal middle school scores years ago, the committee suggested that students spend more time on core subjects at the expense of PE and music. There was a a vocal outcry. I can recall PE teacher pointing to the obesity epidemic and music teachers citing the correlation between music and math and the fact that kids in band have higher high school completion rates.
But DeKalb is between the proverbial rock and hard place — no money in reserves and a $70 million deficit. The county was badly hit by the collapse of the real estate market in Georgia, and wearied taxpayers, some of whom owe more on their houses than the homes are now worth, don’t want a tax increase.
So, should DeKalb jettison its sports programs? Should it follow Clayton’s example and at least consider dumping middle school sports? Should it impose fees on all extracurricular programs, including band, drama, debate, robotics and cheerleading?
I value all these programs and wish schools could offer all of them and more. But is that realistic when you witness the choices facing DeKalb?
I agree that many families can’t afford for the fees, which for club sports can be $2,000 to $4,000 a year for coaches, fees, uniforms and travel.
Why couldn’t Georgia create a tax credit program for public school extracurriculars as it did for private school tuition? People could donate so low-income students could play sports or participate in the band. (Of course, if the program followed the twisted path of the state’s private school tax credit the money would end up going to middle class kids.)
Here is the AJC.com news story on the bad news from the board meeting Tuesday:
DeKalb officials are wrestling with their most challenging budget in years. Unlike most school systems in Georgia, DeKalb has no money in the bank and is on a trajectory to finish the fiscal year in debt. The board took a step Tuesday toward closing what is potentially a more than $70 million deficit by ordering spending cuts and reluctantly setting the table for more taxpayer support.
“I cannot support a two mill increase,” said Paul Womack, who nonetheless voted with the majority in the 5-2 decision Tuesday afternoon. He wasn’t alone. The board had to adopt something prior to a public hearing Tuesday evening to comply with Georgia Department of Education rules. A final budget typically must be in place before the fiscal year starts July 1, and changes are likely.
Nancy Jester wouldn’t vote even for this early draft of the budget because of the tax increase. She said she wants to cut “everything, and more.”
Without that $30 million, the board will have to look far beyond a list of 15 reductions recommended by Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.
The biggest, a two-student increase in the average classroom size that would save $14 million, may also be the most controversial. Layoffs of about 70 central office employees would reduce spending by $5 million and a pullback in overtime pay would save another $5 million. Assorted other cuts, including the elimination of the Montessori program, transportation to magnet schools and elimination of 25 librarians, would make up the rest.
Atkinson withdrew other options, but they’re still on the table if the tax rate doesn’t rise. Among those options, are eliminating the pre-kindergarten program and outsourcing custodians.
DeKalb increased average class sizes by two students a couple years ago, and teachers say another increase would push them to the breaking point.
Tracey Anderson, an English teacher at Lakeside High, said her student roster would rise from around 150 to about 190, “which is beyond impossible — it’s absurd. … I don’t even know how one would report the grades.”
Rather than increase class sizes, parent Molly Bardsley said officials should cut athletics. “There’s no point in training student athletes when they can’t read or write or get a job,” said Bardsley, whose children attend Kittredege Elementary and the DeKalb School of the Arts, both magnet schools
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog