First, there is a formula (QBE), detailing how much money local schools will receive each year from the state. However, the Cobb school district never gets this budgeted amount. Total “austerity cuts” have amounted to over $425 million since 2003. Last year alone they were over $72 million.
Fortunately, legislation has just been introduced to stop austerity cuts and restore past shortages. Senate Bill 42 is being supported by the Georgia PTA. I don’t think it’s feasible in this economy to ask for restoration of past shortages.
However, it’s highly appropriate to request a halt to future cuts. I also believe a caveat should be added requiring that money to be used solely for adding and retaining teachers.
Next, there is the misnamed “Equalization Grant” which drains additional funds from local schools. As a result of state law, the Cobb County School District forfeits approximately $135 million dollars per year to other county school districts. Why? Cobb is considered “rich.” A metro county which is considered needy, and therefore a recipient of our funds, is Gwinnett. Cobb’s education money is taken by the Legislature and redistributed, while our class sizes increase and our teachers are laid off. The Cobb County Association of Educators has suggested that the equalization grant be capped at $100 million per year. That’s a very reasonable request.
Although 90 percent of the CCSD budget is for staff, with 70 percent being solely instructional employees, some claim that the district’s central administration is excessively large and overpaid. If true, that absolutely needs to be addressed. However, even if we cut 20 staffers from central administration, making an average of $100,000 including benefits, it would equal less than 1 percent of all the cuts imposed by the state annually, or just over 2 percent of the current year’s deficit. I’d like to focus my energy first on the big dollars and then address the other.
In theory, the state is supposed to fund the bulk of public education, with the local entities supplementing it. In reality, Cobb is paying 52 percent of that bill locally. Most of that comes from property tax. The majority of counties which receive the “equalization grant” pay under 35 percent locally. This is how strongly we in Cobb value K-12 education. However, while paying less and less of its obligation, our state legislators increasingly pass more laws restructuring local education and moving decision-making down to the Capitol; leaving the community, PTAs and School Councils with little say locally.
As a result of all these varied cuts, the Cobb school board recently announced that, for the coming year, they are expecting a record budget deficit of $79 million. Over the next few months they will be grappling with how and where to cut. For certain, many teachers will be laid off (350 were initially suggested) and there will be furlough days. Instead of supporting small class sizes, state legislators are moving toward a paradigm of private companies implementing K-12 education, mainly online, with teachers only being “coaches.” Some even call it the “factory-model” with no trace of irony. It’s highly detrimental to our students to replace teacher interaction with computer screens.
Call your state legislators and tell them of your support for your individual school and the teachers who’ve made a difference in your children’s lives. Let’s all try to speak more loudly and often, to drown out the well paid voices of the for-profit, and online, school lobbyists.
JoEllen Smith is a former candidate for the Georgia House of Representative from northeast Cobb.