Costly perk – BoE employees enroll 361 out-of-county kids in Fayette schools
If you live outside Fayette County, your kids cannot legally attend Fayette schools, right?
Wrong. If you work full-time for the school system — from janitor to school superintendent — and if there’s classroom space available, you can bring your kids on your commute from out of county and enroll them at no charge to you in Fayette schools. It’s a perk of your employment, with Fayette taxpayers footing the bill.
Currently, 361 kids take that commute every schoolday, at a cost of more than $1.4 million a year to Fayette taxpayers.
The Citizen continues to review both current and past cost-saving and revenue-generating proposals that have come up or may come up as the Fayette County Board of Education continues to seek an estimated $10 million that will be needed to balance the 2012-2013 budget that begins July 1.
A topic that first surfaced in 2009 and may or may not come up again deals with generating additional revenue by charging out-of-county school system employees a tuition fee if they bring their child to Fayette County schools.
It has been a long-standing, legislatively-approved practice in Georgia that a school system employee living in one county and working in other is free to enroll her child to the school system where she works.
In the case of the Fayette County School System, there are 361 students attending the local schools whose parent or guardian and their family resides in another county.
By comparison, the Coweta County School System has 13 students in its schools who live in Fayette County and attend Coweta schools because their parent or guardian is employed there.
The legislative courtesy granted to school system employees notwithstanding, there is a financial aspect to the issue.
The cost of educating a public school student is approximately $8,000, with approximately half of that amount coming from state dollars and the other half coming from local property tax revenues.
The state dollars follow the students who attend school in the county where the parent or guardian works.
But that is not the case with local property tax dollars that stay in the county where the family resides.
That means that approximately half the cost of educating the child is borne by the receiving county.
The Citizen was unable to determine if Fayette residents work in school systems in Clayton and south Fulton counties and are taking their children to schools in those counties.
That said, 361 students at approximately $4,000 totals approximately $1.44 million in state revenues that are not coming to Fayette schools and that must be picked up by Fayette property taxes. That’s more than 10 percent of the amount needed to zero out an anticipated budget shortfall next year of $10 million.
So, should Fayette’s out-of-county school system employees have to pay tuition for their child? Or should Fayette ignore the legislative-approved practice and not let them attend? Or should the matter even come up for discussion?
Given the statewide practice, the issue of cross-county school attendance for school system employees is not necessarily a topic that would gain much traction. But even if such action were ever to surface it would not be the first time in Fayette County.
The school board in early 2009 while grappling with ways to cut expenses and increase revenues briefly explored but did not act on the idea of charging out-of-county tuition for the children of school system employees not residing in Fayette County. At that time there were approximately 300 students attending Fayette schools.
Then-Superintendent John DeCotis in a Feb. 11, 2009 letter to school system employees said, “This is an important benefit to our employees but let me explain why the (school system’s Budget/Allotment Committee) is recommending tuition. The cost to educate a child in our system is $8,241. The local taxpayer has to shoulder about $4,241 of that cost for each student.
“Like everyone else, our taxpayers are feeling the hurt from this economy. Even so, they showed their support for us and voted in favor of the SPLOST in November, which is helping to minimize cuts. The recommended tuition is $1,000 to possibly $1,500 per child to help offset the cost. This item, because it will have a big impact on our employees, will require further discussion,” then-Supt. DeCotis wrote.
Whether this topic as a revenue generating measure will surface again is not currently known.
What is known is that the school system and the school board have looked at a number of revenue generating and/or expenditure reduction issues and will continue to do so.
Next year’s budget will have to be adopted in eight months’ time and with it will come the state requirement to adopt a balanced budget that, to date, looks to be as much as $10 million short.