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School board members Smith, Smola charge that local funds are being siphoned

Two members of the Fayette County Board of Education last week blamed part of their ongoing budget woes on tax dollars being diverted to less affluent Georgia counties.

Chairwoman Terri Smith and board member Janet Smola said that a portion of Fayette’s local funding dollars are going to some of Georgia’s poorer counties and that diversion is a contributing cause to the board having to raise the local millage rate to the state-allowed maximum of 20 mills to make ends meet.

The reference was to the “5-Mill Share,” a state requirement that school systems spend the first five mills levied in their own county, that was a part of a broader discussion on whether the school board should impose further furlough days on school system employees.

As that discussion unfolded, board member Smola mentioned the “5-Mill Share,” noting that if the requirement was not in place that Fayette would not be “in this (financial) shape.”

Chairwoman Terri Smith agreed, saying that the “5-Mill Share” is “deducted from what the state sends us from the funding formula.”

“So essentially, that money goes to the poorer counties,” Smith said. “That caused us to push ourselves up to the maximum (millage rate).”

There was no challenge to those assertions at the public meeting last week.

But is there more to the story of the “5-Mill Share,” since the collection of the first 5 mills is a requirement statewide for every county, rich or poor?

It is a state law that says all school systems should help pay their way by using the first 5 mills levied for their own school system.

According to the Georgia School Council Institute (GSCI), the “5-Mill Share” in the QBE (Quality Basic Education) formula refers to the portion of the direct and indirect instructional costs that the state expects local systems to pay with locally raised funds.

Currently, the state requires local systems to contribute an amount equal to 5 mills of property tax generated within their taxing authority.

Funds that are raised locally through locally levied property taxes, including the “5-Mill Share,” actually never leave the school system and are not sent to the state or to other school systems. The “5-Mill Share” is simply the amount of the local funding “obligation” the state requires each system to pay, according to the GSCI website.

A check with Ga. Department of Education (DOE) Chief Financial Officer Scott Austensen confirmed the GSCI explanation of the “5-Mill Share.” Austensen said school districts do not send money to the state, adding that the 5 mills have to be spent in the county where the taxes were levied.

Though not mentioned by Smith or Smola at the meeting, there is a facet of public education funding that often does see state money going to Georgia’s poorer counties, at least in terms of relative property tax wealth. Those are called Equalization dollars.

But even those funds are not taken directly from richer counties, such as Fayette, and given to poorer ones. Nor are those dollars tied only to the relative worth of a county since they are also linked by formula to a local millage rate levied beyond the “5-Mill Share.”

Austensen said equalization is essentially a grant that comes from a different pot of money and is generated primarily by income taxes and from sales taxes and corporate taxes.

Fayette County is arguably Georgia’s richest county in terms of per capita income. Yet Fayette County, too, earlier this decade, received equalization dollars from the state.



What shape would the system be in if the BOE had not built an empty school? These people actually get paid for their pulic service & mistakes?

Mike King's picture

...having read and reread this article would the two ladies on the School Board actually be misrepresenting the facts? Could it be that they are trying to cover their respective asses for recent mismanagement? Or do they really believe the citizens of Fayette County will believe anything they say?

As a resident of Fayette County I would ask since the 5% in question applies to all counties, why would these two elected officials attempt to distort and 'double' count?

Have we not learned our lesson?

suggarfoot's picture

Those 2 clowns should be peddling that 'act' on a street corner, among other delusionals such as themselves, instead of sitting on the BOE.

As far as no one arguing with them at the meeting about their statements, Would you waste your time trying to explain the logic of no little green men, flying saucers, or people who tiptoe in and take our money for other counties?

These two are still operating under the assumption, 'throw it on the wall and see if it sticks'.


It's the same out crap coming from these two. They refuse to take responsibility for the mess in this school system. Now let's blame more on the state! We wouldn't be short $15.8 million if we hadn't built schools we didn't need. A middle school and at least one, possibly two, elementary schools that weren't justified. Perhaps we should be looking for our funds from the good-ol' boy developers whose pockets were lined by these two crooks. Meanwhile, my kids sit in a school that is at half-capacity and doesn't offer a large portion of the connection classes with which they started. Those that have been put in their place are "fun" things like creative writing which can be turned over to a regular classroom teacher. The only foreign language class left is a "virtual" class in Spanish where the teacher is somewhere in N.C. via a computer. It is only available to 8th graders who are recommended for the class. A native-speaking para-pro is in the class to keep order and I guess serve as a "2nd" teacher. Are we really saving that much money between paying for the online teacher and para-pro? The virtual class wouldn't be as much of an issue if it weren't for the fact that we are the only middle school in the county without a real teacher. Where's the equity in that? Our children are at a severe disadvantage entering high school because this is just not the same quality of teaching. Perhaps if everyone went into high school from the same middle school then we could say "well, we all got the shaft but at least we all had the same virtual class so we're on an even playing field". I'm having a hard time starting my child with Spanish II in high school when they will be in class with others who had a regular classroom teacher for a year, possibly even more than that, in middle school. Then our option is to take Spanish I again and chalk this up as a wasted year. Oh, but wait! Even better. If you choose to repeat Spanish I to get a better foundation, don't expect to get the class as a freshman. No! We don't have enough teachers to teach (because we have no money) so the lowly freshman will likely have to wait until sophomore year. So the big dilemma. Take Spanish II and be ill-prepared OR wait and HOPE you're one of the lucky freshmen to get Spanish I. We still haven't figured that one out for us personally. Now comes the report cards this week with the questionaires about sports teams and fine arts programs. Naive little me just thought it a survey. Oh, how nice! I'm a little slow. They're not being nice. They've never asked our input before. No. Now we're trying to decide what else to cut from our kids. No more middle school sports? No band, chorus, or orchestra? Why else would we have a sudden interest in these two areas? Ask Janet, Terri, and their pal Lee Wright if these are their latest ideas for "helping" take care of our children. I just wish those of you that apparently are in your own little protected schools that seem to be uneffected by the blatant waste of these three will wake up and realize you will not be shielded from all of their wastes much longer. Athletic and fine arts cuts would effect all schools. That's just the tip of the iceberg of the damage they're doing. I just hope the rest of this county will wake up and hold these three accountable. Don't let them pawn off responsibility to others. Our budget mess lies squarely on their shoulders!

I know this will give you no comfort whatsoever, but do not think that the BOE's poor stewardship does not affect other schools. The so-called "little protected schools" are NOT that, at all. Other Fayette County Schools personnel are running scared for their jobs and are keeping tight-lipped about the shortcomings, shorcuts in services to students, and downright system abuses. There is NO Big Brother like our school system, which blackmails its employees into doing what is right for the system itself rather than for its true stakeholders (you, me, our children). Beware of the double-speak from your school administrators; make noise, as disgusted citizen has; be persistent in your insistence that children are served the best possible educational opportunities; and do not be deceived that individuals will not frequently save their own behinds (i.e., their jobs) before they will speak up for what is right.

NUK_1's picture

What is really scary is these two dimwits have been on the BOE long enough that either A) they are complete liars or B) total idiots on this issue.

Ignorance can be cured but stupidity is permanent. I don't think Smith and Smola are this stupid and it's yet another complete lie they are trying to propagate in order to deflect criticism of the horrible job they have done.

Of course, the real dimwits are the Fayette Co voters who overwhelmingly elected and re-elected them in the first place. Then you have those that feel like "I don't show up for tough votes and like to micromanage" Marion Key and "I'm sleepy" Todd are the answer. None of them are part of the solution but all are part of the problem.

It is typical of nearly everywhere that Superintendents and Boards of Directors of School districts are not qualified to manage when it is necessary to make deep cuts.

They do not look into the future very far (say in 2007 should they have realized the condition coming for income?).
They always assume that they will obtain the same amount of dollars or more as before.

There is not even a written plan in case there is serious trouble.
They deal mostly in seniority, unions, more pay for teachers, supers pay (on which others are base paid), who will be promoted to principal (there can be a Harvard grad there with a PhD in teaching with 10 years experience elsewhere and Jane Domopoly, local, with 10 years will get the job due to loyalty to locals.

That is why they are elected and political instead of hired to manage by professionals, plus they are cheaper if you don't count results.

ginga1414's picture

As far as someone running against Lee Wright, we've got a good one. He's been on the Board at Southern Tech and Ga. Tech. Presently, he teaches Math at Gordon College. He has his PHD. He is seriously thinking about running. And, better yet, he isn't afraid of anything or anybody.

suggarfoot's picture

I sure hope so. This has been such a mess. If those schools hadn't been built on 'pure speculation', and developer's welfare considered 1st , on the part of those 3, we would be in much better shape. Smith is married to a developer.

Last year, when our school system was faced with the 09-10 budget crisis, one of these wonderful ladies lectured the attendees of a board meeting as to why the school system had NO reserve fund to fall back on to meet budget requirements. The reason given was that the State was cutting the funding they were sending to the FCBOE after the system budget had been set and therefore, the reserve fund had been drained over the years to make up for the difference. Wow, what an eye opener! This has been going on since 2001!! My question then was “Are you slow learners?” Think I would have noticed a pattern from the State and planned accordingly. Seems other systems got the message as everyone had a “rainy fund” fund except Fayette. As has been reported by this newspaper as well as the AJC, no other school system in the state had to make the cuts to their employees as much as Fayette. I’m confident no one is naive enough to believe that Fayette was the only system that experienced cuts from the state.
Now, for the new excuse as to the financial crisis that faces our school system, the “5 mill-share”. If Mr. Nelms’ explanation is correct, which I feel confident it is given the research he has done, it is scary to think that these 2 board members are responsible for managing our school system and are clueless as to how it is funded. Where was the outrage years ago? There is no one to blame for the financial situation that faces the Fayette County Schools than the 5 Board members and the administration. Obviously, incredibly ill advised decisions were made from building schools that were needed and not building up a fund reserve, but there is nothing that can be done about that now. Quit pointing fingers of blame and get on with making the tough decisions that are facing this school system. There are too many young people and employees depending on you to make the right decisions for their futures than for you to dwell in the past. Hard decisions need to be made NOW. Man-up and get on with it!!

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