Teach spending priorities to help local schools
by JoEllen Smith
September 08, 2013 12:00 AM | 1789 views | 7 7 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After a decade of strong involvement in my children’s schools, here are some things I’ve learned.

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.
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Fair Funding
September 12, 2013
Excellent article. I would like to see more fairness in state and federal funding. There are schools in our district who qualify for grants as much as $450,000 from the state and I don't see those schools test scores improving. I was at a meeting a few weeks back where some of these schools have "excess funds" that they don't know how they are going to spend it all. All while my child's school has to resort to Boosterthon and other fundraising gimmicks because they don't "qualify" for this extra funding. Yet, their test scores and the quality of their education continues to improve with no extra "help" from the government. While I realize that some school populations definitely need more help than others, let's stop "punishing" the schools who perform well by giving them NOTHING extra and making them self fund everything.
September 10, 2013
Excellent article but disturbing. I never realized how unimportant the future citizens of the state are to state legislatures. Lets remember this at election time. But...we have to do something immediately and saying I'm not going to pay an extra penny until the legislature does only hurts our kids. I like the idea of giving up a pizza which serves two purposes helps our children understand their responsibility and luster Gives the children a feeling of ownership in the system and the second is helps the school. Thank goodness for PTA 's and foundations. Again a good article it made me think.
September 09, 2013
Wow! What a fabulous idea. I've been doing something similar with my children. I've had them save part of their allowance to donate to charities. I never thought about having them donate it to the school as well! What a great idea. I will offer to triple their donations!

I agree about not going after the small portion of the budget to cut. Why do that and hurt people in the meantime by having them lose their jobs. Let's find other ways to raise money for the schools. If we put our minds together we can get a lot of this money from the private sector!
Transparent JoEllen?
September 09, 2013
Self promotion is the name of the game where this woman is concerned. Look for Tricia Knor or one of the other FACE members to run for the school board. These are the calendar crazies; they will profess strenuously and vigorously that they only want to improve education, but what they want is power. If one person is the president at elementary, middle and high school PTA, it leaves no room for others to be involved. Concentration of power is the goal. JoEllen Smith wants some sort of position in politics; she's been doing everything she can to get noticed for years. You all aren't fooling anyone.
September 10, 2013
Perfect example of how no good deed goes unpunished. People like this should get off their couch or from behind their computers and try something positive for a change.

I thought that this article was both thought provoking as well as a call to action.

Keep up the good work JoEllen.
September 09, 2013
I will donate to the schools after the State brings funding back to proper levels. If our State leaders do not thinkthe education system is important, then I will take care of only my kids and make sure they learn what is needed to move on.
September 08, 2013
Joellen, you do not address the intense pressure put on teachers and students to raise money for their foundations. How about a column on the kindergarteners and first graders coming home absolutely intense about the fact their teachers aren't gong to have ANYTHING to use to teach the class? Mine almost cried last week during our intense "Boosterthon" (which also took up way too much learning time). We are using these little children and brainwashing them as tools to raise the money that adults can't seem to budget correctly. DO NOT tell us there is not waste in this budget. DO NOT blame it all on the state, although it might help if we had just ONE state rep who had kids in the school system. As a longtime parent of kids in Cobb schools, I am sick and tired of KNOWING about equipment and technology mistakes of millions of dollars andPTA members so intent on brownnosing administrations that they pretend not to see. Then our kids having to raise money for the system on the backs of the children. And now we get a letter from Hinojosa telling us he'll be in the classroom spying on our teachers, as if that's supposed to make them and us feel better? Fire this clown and find someone who can advocate and lead our system. Hino is marking time to his double dipping retirement and our elected leaders are allowing it.
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