It is a truth universally acknowledged that a local School Board in possession of a huge budget shortfall will immediately plead for money from the State coffers.
However little known the facts and figures of the situation, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of some that they cannot see when the situation is truly dire and the local School Board really and truly does need money from the State.
In the current case of Cobb schools, the situation could not be more serious. Even the Chairman of the School Board, Randy Scamihorn says that our school system is broke, living paycheck to paycheck.
Having talked to countless parties involved in the situation, I am of the opinion that the answer has to lie with Gov. Deal.
Already, CCSD School Board is, in my opinion, doing a near miraculous job with limited resources.
Seventy-four percent of the General Fund is spent directly on instruction (more than most school districts) and only 1.4 percent is spent on general administration (this is the lowest percentage in Metro Atlanta).
Property tax income has declined significantly as property values have fallen over recent years (the Cobb property tax digest fell by 17.8 percent between 2008 and 2012 due to the recession) and senior exemptions have reduced income from property taxes drastically (approximately 20 percent).
Further, state school funding is down 16.9 percent in Cobb since 2002, whereas Cobb student enrollment has risen by 11 percent in that time. Money Cobb is supposed to receive by State Law (the Quality Basic Education Act) from Georgia funds has not been paid due to the governor inadequately funding the QBE formula / Austerity Cuts. For example, last year Cobb Schools had to contribute $131.5 million but received nothing back (Equalization grants go to districts with lower property wealth per student) and in addition, were denied $66 million in QBE funds for FY 2014 they are entitled to by law, due to Austerity Cuts alone.
Note again that Georgia is, in effect, breaking the law by not fully funding the QBE formula.
Last year, the CCSD School Board had a shortfall of around $80 million to grapple with and as a result, were forced to leave 182 teaching positions unfilled (resulting in increased class sizes) and to implement five furlough days. Even so, they were still forced to take money out of the Reserve fund ($41 million). Note that this is a “rainy day fund” which should only be utilized in an emergency situation. If the Reserve fund runs out there is a very real possibility that the county could go bankrupt, i.e. be unable to pay its teachers!
This year, CCSD School Board is looking at a similar shortfall. Although the CCSD School Board is exploring ways to make cuts to central administration costs (though they would have to wipe out nearly all non-teaching staff in order to raise anywhere close to $80 million) and is considering options like an increase to the millage rate (which is almost at its legal maximum already), no matter what they do, they cannot close the gap locally without also losing still more teaching positions and/or increasing furlough days.
They simply cannot keep taking money out of our Reserve fund. There is only about $75 million left as it is.
Cobb simply cannot afford to lose more teachers. Our children’s education is at stake. The jewel in Cobb’s crown, education, is at stake.
The only solution is to put a lot of pressure on the Governor of Georgia. The QBE formula simply must be fully funded. Austerity cuts must be reduced / eliminated. Cobb County must receive more money from the State or be allowed to hold on to more of its own money — to contribute less towards the Equalization needs of other districts.