Todd’s cost-savings equal bigger class sizes
Last week, Dr. Bob Todd, a sitting school board member, gave us his observations regarding our school system’s financial position, his speculation of cause, and a general promise to fight the people and policies that have resulted in one of the top school systems in the state.
In 2009, our system educated a child for approximately $8,800, 53 percent of which or $4,700 of which, are paid by the taxpayers of Fayette County. $3,900 (44 percent) is paid by the state of Georgia. The average student in Georgia received approximately $4,400 in a combination of Quality Basic Education Funding (QBE) and local “equalization grants.”
Dr. Todd observes that Fayette County could maximize its funding by “changing enrollments.” Simply put, we can get more state dollars by maximizing class size in contradiction to our proven method of smaller class size that contributes to our success.
Regarding the elimination of certain programs such as art, music, and PE, Dr. Todd stated, “Elementary school — art, music, p.e. — in some instances, may need reducing ...”
Many would argue that the presence of these programs is part of our “Fayette Advantage.” To be clear, these programs (art, music, K-1st grade parapros, school nurses in every school, and school resource officers) are not required by the state of Georgia and are funded with our local tax dollars. We could save money by reducing these programs, but at what cost to our students?
Counting River’s Elementary (that Dr. Todd voted to build), we have 18 elementary schools to cover the nearly 200 square miles we call Fayette County. The location of these schools reflects a strategy of neighborhood elementary schools that minimize transportation time and maximize the opportunity for community involvement.
Not only is Dr. Todd convinced the bigger class size approach is a winning strategy, he is also troubled about our supposedly “excess classroom space.” The plain English translation of “excess classroom space” is too many schools. Nearly all of this “excess capacity” is in our elementary schools.
If you agree with Dr. Todd’s observation, the reasonable path of action is to close elementary schools.
A cursory analysis would consider the three oldest, Brooks, Peachtree City, and Hood; or the three with the most “excess capacity,” Brooks, North Fayette, and Spring Hill. Either of these actions would result in our elementary school utilization rate over 90 percent, affect thousands of families through the ripple wave of redistricting, and would better align our currently excellent system with the educational warehouse strategy practiced by school systems with worse performance and results than our quality Fayette County Schools.
I do not believe the closure of schools is the correct course of action.
When we compare the cost of educating a student in Fayette County to the rest of the state of Georgia, Fayette County’s spending is below average except for the cost of instruction.
In the category of instruction, we spend more than average per student by less than 1 percent. Given our results, I think that 1 percent extra has yielded a great return. We spend $659 more per student than Coweta County overall, but $714 (more than 100 percent) is on instruction.
When compared to school systems of similar size (13,000 to 29,000), Fayette spent less than the average in every category except instruction (+2 percent) and school administration (+4 percent). Given my experience as a first-time school parent, school administrators cannot be valued enough. My personal thanks to Mrs. Berryman and Mrs. Oot at PTC Elementary!
It is concerning that Dr. Todd’s letter reflects a strong dissatisfaction with more than just a few decisions that he himself was part of. With 20/20 hindsight, I believe that building Rivers Elementary was not a good idea. But, Dr. Todd voted for that and even attended the groundbreaking, no less.
Most alarming is his determination that a fundamental change in the direction of the entire system is necessary. Given Fayette County School’s many years of achievement, including being the only school system in Georgia to have every school achieve the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Program’s Adequate Yearly Progress, AYP, for every year of the program’s existence, it would seem the only direction to change to would be down to a lower standard of excellence.
Dr. Todd insinuates that instead of having excellent schools at a lower than average cost as proven above, he would be willing to trade the proven Fayette advantage of quality schools for a lower cost equivalent. As we all know, you get what you pay for.
Peachtree City, Ga.