With schools closing, we must come together

Convenience or quality? That’s a choice for Fayette County parents, other taxpayers, and our Board of Education (BOE) as enrollments decline and the state signals fewer dollars and increased benefits costs for the next school year.

The county now has about 28 schools. Each is staffed with dedicated educators and their locations throughout the county make them convenient to just about every student.

But can we continue to keep them all open? Should we? Based on the latest Annual Report posted on the BOE website (2011), current enrollments fill a robust 90 percent of our high school capacity; that’s the good news.

Our total middle school enrollment uses only 73 percent of the collective capacity for those grades, and our elementary school capacity is utilized even less: 8,582 students in 12,676 seats — 71 percent.

For years, we’ve known that the BOE built too many schools, and we’ve been paying to staff and maintain them every year since they opened. Supporting those costs with a declining revenue stream can only erode the quality of education within those schools and across the county as a whole.

The school superintendent’s office has organized and listened to input from a very involved citizens’ committee, and the staff has crunched the numbers throughout weekends. We’ll have to forgo many teachers and parapros we’ve afforded in the past without state matching funds.

But [that] isn’t enough to fill the $15 million deficit in the coming year’s budget.

A menu of additional cost-cutting proposals is under consideration, but they don’t close the budget hole either.

BOE member Mary Kay Bacallao brainstormed 12 proposals in hopes they’d avert the closings. One runs afoul of Georgia law, one is budget neutral, a couple require more information (does Sandy Creek’s 7-period day require more staff?), and two appear to have some potential. Bacallao provides scant research to support her hopes that the remaining proposals will plug the gaping hole.

We’re now faced with the option no one wants, but must painfully accept: closing our most underutilized/costliest per-child schools. Unfortunately, that has the very real potential to significantly impact those communities, especially Tyrone and Brooks.

That triggers a follow-on challenge: what can we Fayette County citizens organizations, and businesses, do to help those children transition?

Without its cherished elementary school, how can we all support Brooks’ sense of community? How do we come together to support Fayetteville and Tyrone?

Be part of the solution to generate ideas and help implement the most promising among them.

Bob Ross

Peachtree City, Ga.

Larry.Sussberg
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Coweta Schools & State Funding

Fayette Schools will have a lot to learn from Coweta on how to manage larger class sizes. Coweta Schools rise in performance over the past 5 years has been outstanding.

Our reality is, that no matter what, we have a deficit and we have to deal with it.

Agreed that other school systems have been dealing with reduced state funding for years but now Fayette has to deal with that same reality however, the state is responsible along with our own past desire to maintain excellence and belief that we could ride out this economic downturn.

I can't agree with NUK_1's argument that we are spending more and getting less because Georgia is still in the bottom 30% of state rankings on per student expenditures and same appears true for teacher salaries. Granted it is more as a comparision to other states when you factor in our educational ranking.

Going forward, to maintain excellence in Fayette, standards may need to be raised with greater responsiblities placed on parents. Teachers will also need support in training on handling larger class sizes and reduction in paperwork they are required to do.

Children are our future and this is a sad reality, whether a school system has been dealing with the state cuts or not.

Public education can and does work! I'd rather see my baby boomer generation cut social security and medicare before education.

Maybe the children need a lobby as strong as the AARP.

NUK_1
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Schools

It always falls upon the parents, no matter where geographically one happens to be. A parent or parents that expects or even DEMANDS achievement can make the difference in even lousy school systems, at least for their own children.

Why has FC been one of the better school systems in GA? Better parents and people that have decent jobs and care. That attracts teachers and educational support staff that forgoes higher compensation in other systems because they know the parents give a damn and the environment is one of success, not just being there because you have to send the kids to school.

Coweta BOE is sitting on a pile of money right now, but they have a lot of their own challenges such as a very ancient Newnan High School and the reality that there are basically two different Coweta's at this point with highly different demographics/students. They've moved forward recently, but they still have a ways to go to equal or surpass FC, especially McIntosh and Starr's Mill. Good luck to them and any other school system. They are poised to take advantage of their financial situation, but it will still come down to the parents in Coweta, just like anywhere else. They are on the right track while FC is sort of retrenching but that hopefully means more long-term stability in FC.

Larry.Sussberg
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Schools & Fayette

Give it 5 to 7 years and we will be back to building schools like Rivers and the Fayetteville bypass! Most likely a PTC bypass as well.
You can not stop growth or progress, only shape and sculpt it to a desirable outcome.

americanpatriots
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Nuk_1 Larry I disagree

Your observation is absolutely on point! Most people wouldn't have the courage to say what you did.

NeilSullivan
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H & F, NUK , Larry

First, I agree with Larry I give Mary Kay credit for being out there with her ideas, even if I agree with very little she has put forward. I did not vote for her but I am impressed with her passion and public interation with citizens.

Next, I do beleive state funding is PART of the problem. Actually so does Cherokee, check out their website, they spell it out. In fact citizen groups from there have contacted me about repurposing my letters. Citizens around the state have had enough with the current state of public school funding.

But to be clear, I do beleive we need to right size and we do need to restructure to a better model. I have been saying that in these pages and elsewhere for 7 years. I agree with all the closures except Brooks. I worry about the transport time. While these are my concerns, let's also remember that my co-chair in Fayette Citizens for Children is former PTO President of Brooks.

NUK1 Coweta has had an ESPLOST a lot longer than Fayette, which they used to build schools, buy buses, computers, books and other hard assets. We used operating funds that we wish we had in the bank now. However, their perfromance is also less over time. Recently they have had all schools make AYP, however, their was a point in time they had high schools and middels that did not make AYP. From a cost stand point, the most recent data suggests our teachers average 3+ years more experience and 150 have more advanced degrees resulting in a higher per student instructional cost base.

A better point now that you brought it up, in 2011 QBE $, Fayette actually earned more money than our friends to the West by approximately 500k. After "5 Mills" and "Equalization" Coweta got over $5MM more. Another flaw in the state's model.

H&F. This is my name and I put it here and in letters. We all have opinions and points of view. School funding and cost is something I have a passion for. In an Op-ED a couple weeks ago Peggy Noonan said that the Reagan White House had the spectrum of Republican views from the moderate wing to the very conservative and through a bruising collaberative process came the great ideas we celebrate. Maybe you and I represent two different wings but can we find great ideas? But the whole questioning of motives is getting old.

As far as why. I said it before and will again. I am a CPA with a private practice and a day job leading the Finance area of a manufacturing company where I specialize in cost control. My wife is a Fayette County teacher and my son is a third grader at PCES. Any credit for what I do goes to God, all I want is Excellent Fayette County Public Schools.

Take Care,

Neil
neilsullivan72@gmail.com

Husband and Fat...
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Neil

In the midst of this fiscal dilemma, when the state is taking in less money, don't you think that they have to cut back everywhere across the board?

Most people are bringing home less money. I know I am. That means the state is receiving less. It means we tighten our belts, work a little harder, and do more with less.

Take your friendship and emotions out of the Brooks elementry school issue and put your accounting skills to work. Does keeping Brooks open make economic sense in the state we are in finacially? I don't think so. I love the city of Brooks. If I had known about its landscape and rural feel, I may have looked at settling there since it is in the Fayette school district. But, I never heard of it until I lived here a few years. Good for them in keeping this pristine hamlet so quite to others.

Lets compare Coweta and Fayette over the last few years. Coweta had the foresight to employ the esplost earlier than Fayette because they have easier access to the the interstate and have built a large retail market that many others outside of the county contribute. A big plus for them. Thier schools, though lacking 7 years ago, are all doing much better. FC does not take a backseat to Coweta in terms of education. We do however take a back seat in regards to fiscal growth, since we are hampered being off the beaten patch. FC just needs to figure out the source of sustained growth. I think we are on the way based on some of the recent announcements.

Experience is good, but experience does not always mean better. Some teachers only reach for advancement because that is the only way they can earn more money. Wouldn't it be better if we based a salary on the progress of thier students? I don't keep my job because I have worked someplace for a number of years. I keep my job because I produce. My boss would fire my butt in a minute if I didnt produce. After many years, especially when you have a govt job, some people go thru the motions instead of working hard. I would much rather my child be taught by an energetic teacher than someone just biding thier time for thier 20 years.

FC has great teachers. I have not found one yet, that didnt exceed my expectations. However, you must acknowledge (with a few exceptions for those self motivated students) that the children who do well have parents involved in the education process.

FC will survive without the "normal" state funds because a majority of the homeowners and parents do care about education. They also understand that we are in a man made fiscal crisis and need to praise god for what we do have instead of begging the government to give us more of a half eaten pie.

NeilSullivan
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Husband & Father some common ground

HI Husband & Father
I appreciate your thoughts here is my take.

1. Brooks. It is no where but that school has been there a long time. That has been the “service solution” for county schools for a long time. The houses sprung up around it. In that case I think it MAY be special. For example if/when the bypasses develop, unless the developers are donating schools, I think we should advise the buyers their kids are going where we have room. Why should we redistrict because someone moves in?

2. Teacher experience. I think this point on experience ( tenure) cuts both ways in many professions I have seen the ones marking time. But my son’s first grade teacher is, well older than my 47 years, and she seems to be the first one in and the last one out. There are people who stop delivering after some years in every profession I have seen people at Delta who were great at service once and some who are great after 40 years. Same thing with accounting clerks.

3. We agree on the pay scale. I do think it is less than optimal that someone can decide to go get their master’s degree and increase their own pay without the job requiring an advanced degree. When I got my MST, I was given a lunch not a raise. Did you know the media specialist at McIntosh has a Phd?

4. State Revenue – If all things were equal I would agree. But, when I got into the ESPLOST years ago , I sat down to prove why FCBOE did not need it and wound up head of the committee. The legislature has passed a number of revenue reducers (tax cuts) from the end of the ad valroem, to changes to the corporation tax apportionment formula that have not driven the growth expected. Maybe due to the crappy performance of our schools?

In that world, there should be elimination of programs and not new ones to fund required spend. But instead we have growth in charter schools and private school tax credits to the point where there was a constitutional amendment to spend more. I understand there is a grander agenda but we are failing at the basics on a state basis.

5.I do agree the people of Fayette have and will do everything they can. However, our school property tax is at 20Mills. State law would require us to vote to raise our own taxes, I do not support this. I think the state funding is broken and Fayette falls into a flaw in the design of the 5 Mills. But like I have endlessly said, if our costs were way outside the average, I would agree. This last report is the first one we have been more than a little above the average in the 12 years I have in my database. I agree we need to cut, but carefully.

It isn’t intuitive to me that we pay more in property tax milage, in theroy we pay more to the state per capita than most counties, and we drive more sales tax to the state; that we are short funded. Even bringing Fayette to the state average is $6MM. Personally I would like to see every child in GA receive X from the state and let the schools figure out the rest. If you think it looks like something it is because it does. But lets get the budget figured out first.

Take Care
Neil

AtHomeGym
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Quote: First one there and last one to leave".

You should never, never, confuse effort with results! Some will get more done in 3 hrs than others do in 10.

NeilSullivan
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At home gym - Exceptions

I normally agree with your comment. But in this case, the teacher does an awesome job planning for the needs of all of her kids and really putting the time in to make them all successful. My son is in the third grade now and I will forever be in awe of this teacher she is truly special. Jackson still goes down to visit her at talk Alabama football.

AtHomeGym
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Neil & Exceptions

Granted--there are indeed exceptions and you are fortunate to experience one. I am way past that as my youngest is 39 however Frau Gym is a retired teacher and I know what she did,having experienced limited use of our Dining Room due to Master'sDegree study & associated books & papers---plus being subjected to post-schoolday briefings & discussions! However it becomes all worth it when she is greeted in a store somewhere by a former student who says "You were my favorite 3rd Grade Teacher!

Larry.Sussberg
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Mary Kay Bacallao & Schools

Glad that FCBOE has someone like Mary Kay!

As a trained educator, she has come to the table with budget alternatives and although they may not be cost effective and and we need to close the schools, she is trying to find ways to keep them open so class sizes can remain smaller.

The State of Georgia continues to underfund education and it reflects in our overall national ranking. Fayette has done far better and, Mary Kay can help us ensure high standards.

Clearly growth is coming to Fayette, which means we will be building new schools and bypasses again too.

NUK_1
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Larry: I disagree on funding

You and Neil Sullivan seem to expect that school level funding from the State is the problem, not gross and haplessly stupid mismanagement from the BOE. You're both way wrong.

EVERY school system in this state has been dealing with the same cutbacks as FC is also dealing with. Most of have done a MUCH better job(see Coweta) in dealing with reality instead of our past BOE's that led us straight to Hell with asinine spending, bloated personnel at the top, and school building when every forecast showed the population of FC declining then, now, and into the future.

Also, there has never been any definitive proof and studies that show class sizes affects learning after the very early years of education, which is why most major universities have some class sizes that are 500-1000 students and held in auditoriums.

GA doesn't "underfund education" when you compare it to other states' spending on education. GA ranks near the bottom in results but not near the bottom on spending. There are several states that have much higher results than GA who spend far less.

Why don't you just come out and say the reality: "this State needs to spend more because we have a lot of uneducated rural inbreds and a sizeable urban ghetto population?" But will spending more solve either issue? Nope.

Husband and Fat...
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Nuk

Your right on. Every county is dealing with the less money. We are dug our own hole and now have to get ourselves out of it. Cobb, Gwinnett, Cherokee, they are all making the cuts too.

Every county wishes they had more state funding. That's normal. Neil seems to think that if he writes enough letters to the editor blaming the state, that suddenly all our representatives will jump on his bandwagon and pull money out of the air to give to FC. I'm pretty sure, if the state had the funds like they did years ago, they would provide more funds, but they can't.

Your right, we need to tighten our belts for a few years and suck it up, until we have a better and stable economy.

NUK_1
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husbandand not fatFather

While we all feel "special" for living in FC and some even more so living in PTC, Neil and Larry seem to think that only FC is affected by the same cuts in state funding that every other school district in this state also has to grapple with.

EVERY school system has had to deal with this same funding issue and some have done a LOT better. While Ballacao(who I voted for btw) is still making some statements that alarm me, I think this BOE and the interim superintendent are far, far better than before and we'll swallow the bitter pill and take it instead of more kicking the can down the road.

Husband and Fat...
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I agree about the BOE

I think we are in much better hands. I like Mr. Colwell. Wish he could take us further, but respect his taking the helm temporarily. Reports seem to be on time and in better shape. He seems to be leading like a seasoned pro he is.

I didn't vote for Mary Kay. She scared me, while she pandered to the folks who are potentially losing thier schools. I don't blame them or anyone for voting for the knight in shining armour championing thier cause. But we all see the writing on the wall. She can gain my support by voting for the closures and just stating that once the facts were placed before her, she changed her tune. Nothing wrong with that. If she could champion another cause that she has some expertise, and can certainly gain my support.

Neil is starting to get on my nerves with his letter writing campaign asking us to bombard our state reps with asking for more dough. I am not a fan of his cool-aid. It just makes me wonder if there are other motives for his campaign.

Husband and Fat...
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Larry

Larry, while I commend Mary Kay for bringing ideas to the table and hope she continues to do so, she clearly did not have a financial solution to back up her campaign promise not to close the schools. I anticipate that she will be the lone wolf who votes no, just to save face to the constituants she pandered to, and to me that is wrong.

With all due respect. (I know you backed her) If she wants to gain my approval, she will vote yes to the school closures and just say that once she got into office, additional facts placed before her changed her opinion.

Like I said earlier, she needs to champion a new goal. Pick something she is more knowledgeable in like advanced teacher education and go for it.

I agree, the FC economy appears to be on the upswing and I am very happy to see this. The growth will take some time and I hope that we have learned some valuable lessons. When the schools start to fill up, let's be sure that we have sustained growth before building and they will come approach.

mr50
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Schools Closing ...

I decided to come to this site to find out what its going on!

Many people are talking...

What about the Teachers. Why is it that we don't hear anything from them. We have one of the finest group of educators in this county and we keep ignoring them. How disrespectful! How much more will they take. One thing is to love your career and students and another thing is to stay quiet for fear of getting fired. Teachers need to also get involved and state their opinion. This silence is not healthy. Guys you will not have to cut teachers, they will leave one at a time. They too need to provide for their families and look out for their well being.

This is becoming a nightmare. How did we get to this point?

Citizen Bob
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PTC Observer, H&F, Larry S.

Great feedback- encourage others to submit their thoughts as well. The BOE needs broad community input to make the best decisions. I'm happy to collect, collate, & forward your meaningful & useful ideas to the Board & Seperintendant.

PTC Observer
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Citizen Bob!

I forgot to ask you to run for Mayor. We need more people like you in elected service. While I know you don't want to do this because you have served your country honorably for many years, your community could use you at this time of need. Leadership, thoughtful analysis and pulling people together seem to be traits that you could apply to our benefit.

You along with Mr. Garlock would be excellent additions to our council.

Sincerely,

PTCO

PTC Observer
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Mr. Ross

How we can help those kids transition is to get them to their new school on time.

Now I don't know about everyone else that reads these posts, but as a kid I moved schools five times. The schools weren't closed in my case, the population was growing so fast that new schools seemed to open every week in the post war period of the 1950's. Kids were reassigned schools like changing shirts. A kid in elementary school has one concern, will he/she be with their friends. It's the parents that cause all the angst surrounding these changes, not the kids.

Let's give our kids all the support we can at home, but let's let them deal with changes in their lives, it will build character and teach one of life's lessons. Nothing, absolutely nothing in our lives stays the same. It's time that they learn this.

Husband and Fat...
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PTCO - your on the ball

Kids only want to be accepted and most of the time it's the parents who breed fear into the kids.

Teaching kids about change and directing their energies into positives are what needs to be preached.

But still, one has to feel some sadness for a community losing a school.

In light of your post, I suggest that the principal and teachers develop a buddy system to make sure all of the redistricted students be assigned a buddy to help the integration.

Larry.Sussberg
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Local Business does and can support!

For many years, The Fayette Chamber of Commerce has had and maintains a program called Partners in Education.

Local business owners should be involved and many are. There is always room for more business owners to participate in providing, time, resources and money. Yes, time and resources are listed before money.

Local business owners should contact the Chamber as to how to get involved. Mr. Ross is 100% correct. We must come together and be part of the solution and you have the power to do so.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Ross, let's get the ball rolling

Though it's sad to have to close schools, especially in the Brooks and Tyrone communities, we have all seen this coming. In order to make the transition fun and exciting for the elementary grades, let me suggest:

1. Take a few days before the end of the year and bus existing students leaving closed schools to their new schools to allow them to see the school first hand and show them they may know kids from various outside activities. Those schools welcoming students can throw a welcome party, financed by a local business. This will hopefully excite the kids and calm any anxiety over the summer.

2. The schools closing can have goodbye parties and games. Maybe plant a time capsule.

3. During the summer, the schools can host open houses so students can learn the layout. Place photos of teachers throughout the school.

4. When the school year starts, open the year with a welcome party and show school spirit. Maybe get a popular kid from one of the closed schools to act as a cheerleader. Hand out cheap giveaways with the school name.

5. Somehow recognize old school traditions.

In regards to Mary Kay, I too am not impressed. Her stab at cost savings proposals only reinforced my initial fears that she may be a good teacher, but she pandered to the communities about not closing schools without a realistic plan.

jeanniegaracia
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Your School Closing Tips vs. Real Concern for the Students

Great tips - until the kids show up at the school where they have been tagged as the "DUMB HICKS" - no party, cheap giveaways or cheerleaders can really overcome that stigma. Do you REALLY believe that they would? If so, you don't know much about real school situations and the power of social eliteism.

Spyglass
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Dumb Hicks

What area of the county do they hail from?

Husband and Fat...
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Social Eliteism?

First off, its spelled elitism.

Elitism is an attitude. And one can change thier attitude (both sides).

If you choose to act like a dumb hick, you can expect to be treated as such. If you act like you are a smart intelligent person, than people treat you as such.

You may be transferring some personal esteem issues onto the child. You can avoid that by being thankful for what you do have.

jeanniegaracia
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Husband and Fat... first off, correct your own errors..

You are obviously one of the social elitist about which I speak.
Correct your own errors before you correct mine..
"If you act like you are a smart intelligent person, than people treat you as such..."
Isn't it THEN people treat you as such??
If you act like a social elitist THEN people treat you as such....

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