Does the school district spend too much money on central office personnel? According to published reports, the Cobb County School System has one of the lowest administration overhead costs in metro Atlanta, $83 per student. Could it be even lower? Sure. But to fight for the marginal isn’t practical. Even if a whopping $8.5M worth of salaries and benefits were cut from CCSD central office (approximately 120 staff members) it would only result in one extra teacher per school. Not one teacher per grade, but one per school.
As a pragmatist I like to focus my energy where it can have the most impact. The budget cuts our schools have been experiencing for over a decade are due to underfunding by our state legislators. State austerity cuts to the Cobb County schools equaled $72.17 million in FY 2013 alone. That’s enough to fund 962 teachers, nine per school county-wide! This amount doesn’t even include our shortfall under the punitive “equalization grant” which takes 5 mills of our property tax and distributes it to other counties, such as Gwinnett.
So what to do? We can always effect change the most on a local level. It’s no coincidence that schools with the highest active support for PTAs, Foundations and School Councils also have the highest scores and fewest discipline issues, and have teachers who feel supported. Tritt Elementary PTA President Amy Surasky recently stated, “We want to be in a position to say ‘Yes’ to every teacher request for creative enrichment materials.” Their Foundation already furnishes both science and technology labs.
A group of Dodgen M.S. Council parents, including Meghan Ritchie Wohlfarth, formed “FACE It Cobb” which seeks solutions for school funding issues. Tricia Knor has been on the PTA Board of all her feeder schools Chalker, Palmer, and now as the Kell H.S. co-President. And Kell PTA parent Kevin Jabarri is even on a state education advisory board. Dedicated parents at Bells Ferry Elementary formed a foundation and are inviting local businesses to contribute to their local school (they should). I could go on and on.
Contrary to urban legend, these parents aren’t all “rich, dilettante housewives.” Most work, some are men, and many homes in the strongest school clusters only list in the $300Ks. Local businesses often step up as well, like Superior Plumbing’s Jay Cunningham, who donates generously to fund additional programming at our high schools.
This year, I have committed to donate $200 per child, split between my local PTA and Foundation. I encourage everyone to do the same. Sounds like a lot? This is actually a steal to take my school from average to highly-enriched. These organizations are 100 percent volunteer, so all the money is used directly for enrichment programs, science and technology teachers, supplemental materials and the like. Items which should be paid for with tax dollars, but isn’t.
If you have three children, this is no more than one cup of Starbucks a day, or less than one family restaurant dinner per month.
It’s all about priorities. Let’s teach our children a lesson; when they ask to order a pizza, let’s take that money and instead put it in a jar. Each month, donate it to their schools, explaining to them their direct, personal benefit. We shouldn’t give up advocating for funding changes at the state level, but in the meantime we MUST take concrete action. Not just sit and complain.
Grandparents, what about taking half the money you would spend on your grandchildren’s Christmas, Hanukkah or birthday presents and donate that to their schools instead? You will reinforce your values while contributing to their life-long success.
Please take this pledge with me and see the difference it will make. You want to “take back our schools?” This is how.
JoEllen Smith is a former board member of her local PTA and School Foundation, a former candidate for the state legislature and a small business owner. She lives in East Cobb with her husband and two school-aged children.