Are school boards under siege? Bill would defang Bibb board by ending its taxing power.

Are school boards under siege this year in the General Assembly?

A bill in the General Assembly would strip the Bibb County school board of its power to to tax citizens.

There seems to be a general sense among state legislators that school boards are inefficient and wasteful, although I have to point out that the General Assembly has its own moments of inefficiency and waste.

But because school boards deal with children, lawmakers seem to feel they have a moral imperative to act when they see what they deem serious failings. (See mess in DeKalb.)

And there are troubled school boards out there. But some of their troubles owe to the continued slashes to their state funding by the governor and state Legislature, a fact that we must acknowledge in any discussion on why school districts are in financial free-fall.

But I do get a lot of emails from readers about Bibb. However, the emails are often focused on the Bibb school chief rather than the school board.

I have written about the ambitious reform blueprint of Macon’s new superintendent, the Macon Miracle. Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s plan contains 100 action points, including closing schools, a dramatic restructuring of grade configurations, a move to year-around schools, Chinese classes,  schools of choice that students could pick based on their interests and dorms for students in need.

At a press conference today on his bill to strip the Bibb school board of its taxing authority, State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, referenced Dallemand, saying the school chief at times shows “bizarre behavior.”

According to the Macon Telegraph:

The Bibb County school board would lose its taxing authority under legislation being proposed by a state lawmaker. Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, is set to announce the filing of local legislation Wednesday that would require the school board to present its final budget to the governing authority of Macon-Bibb County for review and approval.

For decades, the Bibb County Commission approved the school board’s spending plan and tax levy. In 2004, though, Bibb County voters authorized the school board to set its own millage rate, and the board has done so since 2005. It was the last school board in Georgia to achieve that fiscal independence.

His legislation would reinstate the Macon-Bibb County Commission as the funding authority for Macon-Bibb County.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said Tuesday that he did not want to discuss what he knew about Staton’s bill, but Peake did say he has been fielding calls from constituents who are worried about the school system’s finances.

“There’s just some real concern among our citizens that we are on a slippery slope to disaster, and it’s time we do something,” Peake said.

In a preliminary budget session recently, school officials said they will need to keep dipping into their financial reserves as operation costs increase and local and state tax dollars continue to decline.

Unless the district takes a different course, such as consolidating schools, the district’s reserves could go from nearly $4.7 million in fiscal 2014 to nearly $7.6 million in the red the year after, based on preliminary projections that school officials shared in January.

The district is supposed to maintain a minimum fund balance of 8 percent of its projected fiscal 2014 budget expenditures of $185 million, or $14.8 million, according to school system documents.

More immediately, the school district may have to adjust its fiscal 2013 budget because of an anticipated increase in legal fees and payments toward the lease for the Macon Promise Center that the school district is set to start paying in April.

WGMT Channel 41 posted reaction from school board members to Staton’s bill:

School board member Dr. Wanda West told us, “What disturbs me is that the board of education had not been involved in any conversation in discussing taking away its power to tax.  I just think they’ve launched another battleship, when we should be forming partnerships. I don’t think industry will come, and this community will not grow with a house divided.  Change will always take place… But, when the changes become that major, the people ought to have input. This divisiveness is killing this community.”

Lester Miller began serving on the school board in January.  He said, “I understand there’s been some problems recently prior to my tenure, but I think with a new board, a lot of those issues can be addressed.  What we need to do is put all this behind us and get back to the business of taking care of the children.  It’s almost like the senators are cutting my feet out from under me. What’s the point of having all these new board members try to get things back on the fast track, if you’re going to turn around and tie our hands at the same time.  I feel a little disheartened about this. Hopefully, the bill isn’t as serious as it looks like it might be right now.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2013/02/19/2362525/staton-legislation-would-remove.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

16 comments Add your comment

Looking for the truth

February 20th, 2013
4:11 pm

What happened to reasoned, deliberative debate? Our legislature seems to be focused on settling personal vendettas rather than doing what is best for students. How many teachers are in the legislature vs. how many lawyers, etc.?

The legislature does not need to be a place for people with vindictiveness in their hearts. That’s how we got in this mess to begin with. I don’t want to reference petty bureaucrats who want to “get even” with perceived wrongs. I want people running our government and schools who are thoughtful and rational! Is anyone with me on this?

living in an outdated ed system

February 20th, 2013
4:11 pm

Lets not get ahead of ourselves here. Now it’s the legislators who are being irrational. We need checks and balances regarding holding local school boards accountable, but this measure is not demonstrating rational thought.

skipper

February 20th, 2013
4:21 pm

Seems like I am always negative, but I am not too far from Macon, and Bibb County’s school system is the epitome of a cluster. A very large % of kids go to private schools there. (The number of black kids in the private schools there has increased.) Mt. De-sales, Tatnall Square Academy, Stratford and FPD are just a few of the thriving private schools there. Examine closely, Maureen, and you will see why they, along with smaller schools like Windsor and Central Fellowship will continue to thrive. Macon is the only city (now consolidated) that had partisan city elections. Since consolidation has passed, and along with it non-partisan elections, a group has now filed with the Justice Department. As usual (elephant in the room) race is a problem there, and will continue to be for the forseeable future. However, the school system in Macon is as “boogered up” as any.

Thurston Howell IV

February 20th, 2013
4:37 pm

Two points:

1) “Bizarre behavior” by the super. We need to elect superintendents. Then we can get rid of their sorry rear ends if they go rogue. Instead of just making a bare majority on a school board happy,the superintendent would have to answer to ALL stakeholders if he/she was elected.

2) Taking away taxing authority simply puts Bibb on a par with other counties. Nothing nefarious here,the model needs changing.

Georgia coach

February 20th, 2013
6:04 pm

Cecil staton cheated Georgia Southern out of thousands in broadcast fees. He is hardly a good source about anyone’s finances.

Hissy fit

February 20th, 2013
6:35 pm

School boards are not under assault. BAD school boards are under assault.

tangledweb

February 20th, 2013
7:01 pm

I live in Macon and have a child in this district. I believe the newly elected board members should be allowed to try to right the ship before passage of a bill like this. If you really want to see how bad things are, take a look at our local news on Dr. Romain Dallemand. Our system is almost bankrupt because 5 board members gave him carte blanche with everything he wanted. In 2014-2015, we are looking at being $8M in the hole, after having a budget surplus of, I believe, around $29M prior to his arrival. Bibb County needs people who will stand up to this superintendent, and I believe we now have 4 on the board who will do what is truly best for our students. While Dr. Dallemand had over-the-moon ideas, some were good. Many were not, and many were and are expensive. We’ve been told on numerous occasions that if Bibb doesn’t have the money, the new policy or expenditure won’t be put into place. That never happened with the old board. Anything Dallemand wanted, Dallemand got. Hopefully our new board can provide a path back to fiscal responsibility and the fundamentals of education will be placed back into the teachers’ hands. Don’t believe me? Look at all the news articles from our area. Google him. You will be amazed at all the money he has spent, and even some of it on fine meals, hotels, and limos for himself.

George

February 20th, 2013
8:13 pm

Clear out Dekalb and give it a chance

AlistairD

February 20th, 2013
8:15 pm

most school boards are filled with business people who know little about schools, effective teaching, learning styles, curriculum, testing strategies, evaluation methods…… They get elected with a lot of money and then use the board for their own special interests. That’s why school systems are so messed up. Things never change

Quota

February 20th, 2013
9:39 pm

If the Dekalb school board survives, I say let them sink ..it’s the only way to show the dumbo voters in that county what happens when you elect lousy board members.

mountain man

February 20th, 2013
10:22 pm

I hope Dekalb becomes Clayton County II. Let SACS revoke their accreditation. Put an amendment to the constitution to allow cities to create school districts. Let the rest of Dekalb rot. As Thurmond said – you elected them, so suffer the consequences!

Dave

February 20th, 2013
10:39 pm

Under seige? I certainly hope so. Every school board I’ve seen or heard about has lost it’s ever freaking mind, and common sense! Raising taxes, bankrupting tax payers while spending like a U.S. president!! Best thing that could ever happen is to wipe the slate clean, and run schools by popular citizen vote!!

Private Citizen

February 21st, 2013
6:30 am

Dave, You left out the part about how school boards treat teachers like charwomen or chai-wallah.

charwoman – a woman hired to do general cleaning, especially in an office or large house. char or (ironically) charlady is an English house cleaner. The term has the same roots as “chore woman”, one hired to do odd chores.

chai wallah – street vendor selling chai latte; a boy or young man who serves tea. The official promotion of tea was as served in the English mode. In other words, like teachers serving tea to British royalty, which is the prevailing mode of how school boards view themselves.

Chai wallah, bring me a tea! Beat the chai wallah, teach them some respect!

skipper

February 21st, 2013
8:58 am

tangledwebb,
No offense, but if you think the cluster in bibb is going to improve, how ’bout that ocean-front property in Wyoming?

tangledweb

February 21st, 2013
6:13 pm

Skipper, no offense taken, but I am not as naive as your post implies. Our board members only took office in January. These new members were voted in exactly because they are good, upstanding people, and because the voters wanted people in who would stop the madness within the school system. So far, they have proven that is what they intend to do. Our superintendent is on his way out. It’s only right that they be given an opportunity to turn the financial fiasco around, as the voters asked them to do. If this bill passes, the taxing authority goes to the newly, yet unformed, Macon-Bibb Commission. The people who are running in those elections know very little about education and their budgets or needs. I definitely don’t want some who are running in charge of my education tax dollars. Our new board of education members do deserve a chance. If they fail, then we must push for a public vote to remove their taxing authority.

skipper

February 23rd, 2013
10:12 am

tangledwebb,
The problems in Macon are so much bigger. yes, race IS a problem. The inner-city schools are going to improve when the ghetto-culture outside the schools improves, and not before, too bad folks do not want to talk about it. All Macon has is power-grabbers who coulc care less about true betterment. Unfortunately, the schools aregoing to have to deal with the students they have. Home training is needed in Macon. The frickin’ schools cannot perform miricles! Call it racial or whatever, but go to one of the ball games…….