Prior to the vote last Thursday night, Superintendent Dr. John Harper presented information to the board outlining the cuts in funding to the school system and the increases in operation cost incurred.
According to Harper’s presentation, in 2008, the Bartow County School System received more than $74 million from the state; however, that has steadily declined and this year the county received slightly more than $57 million for funding education. The system’s share of classified insurance in 2008 was $162.72 and currently has increased to $596.20 with a possible rise to $760. This is the rate paid for each of the county’s nearly 500 employees. The system paid 9.28 percent of the Teacher Retirement System six years ago but the county school system has seen that portion grow to 13.15 percent for 2015. The state also reduced funding for transportation and nurses, which relayed a cost of $6.5 million and nearly $717,000, respectively, to Bartow County schools.
“If the amended formula adjustment line item was removed from our state allotment sheet, we would not have to make the staff and program cuts. This line item was added in 2003 and since that time Bartow County Schools have lost over $50 million in funding that we should be receiving to support our students. This year’s reduction was $6,479,639 dollars,” according to Harper’s presentation.
Of the 180 school systems in Georgia, 133 have raised millage rates. Thirty-three systems have not increased the amount of property taxes and 14 systems have lowered their rates. Neighboring Cherokee County’s rate is 19.4, with Floyd County at 18.5 and Gordon County citizens paying 19.4.
Harper detailed the cuts the system has made since 2009 in an effort to offset rising costs and decreased funding by the state. Additionally, he showed in his presentation the names of teachers who would be affected if cuts to art, music and physical education were made.
“Board members, these are the names of each of the teachers who would lose their job if you made the cuts mentioned in previous meetings. These are valued members of our community.
“Our staff has had to bear the burden of the revenue reductions by doing more with less, taking on additional duties and responsibilities, salary reductions, furlough days and significant layoffs. The staff’s continued efforts to provide the very best for our students makes me very proud of each and every one of them,” Harper said.
Matt Shultz, Bartow County Board of Education member, said [the board] has been presented with no other options.
“We just added a number of days back to the calendar at a cost of over a million dollars. I sat here months ago and said that was inappropriate. I would certainly love for our teachers to get paid as much as they can get paid but we are talking about a million dollars that could still be in our reserve.... We are still trying to run this thing like it’s 1995 and we have made no adjustments for the fact that it is 2014,” Shultz said.
Ann Sullivan, Bartow County BOE member, voted for the tentative millage rate increase.
“I think that making some of the changes we have made like furlough days and reduction in seat time for our children is more irresponsible than some of the other things,” Sullivan said. ”We are asking our teachers and our students to perform at a much higher level and at the same time we are also asking them to have less time in the classroom. Those two things don’t make sense to me.”
Sullivan continued, “We did start to lower the millage rate in 2007 and 2008 but that was also during a time when we had a significant reserve fund because we had higher millage rates and it was also during a time that we were receiving higher funding from the state. So we have kept the millage very low and tried very hard to not do that. We have had this discussion for the last two or three years and we kept hoping we would see higher increases from the state, we kept hoping things would improve in the economy and it hasn’t happened. It is unrealistic for us to think that even with a list of alternatives, we can continue to operate at this millage rate.
“I am not saying that I am in favor of increasing the millage rate and keeping it cranked up there as high as we can possibly get it. I am saying that I think we have to be reasonable in trying to figure out what we can do. And, my understanding is that we are going to end up with still some additional cuts within the system; we are still going to be operating at a significant sacrifice even if we increase the millage rate. I don’t think there is irresponsibility here, it seems to me we are trying very hard to be responsible. We have come to the realization … that what put our system at risk was when we kept having continuous cuts in education and in trying to maintain a quality system.
“We can no longer continue to ask our teachers and our kids to bear the cost of education the way we are. ... We are increasing our evaluations, we have new testing systems, we have new curriculum and it is not reasonable or feasible to continue to do those things in the way we are doing them without asking for an increase. Do we want to ask for an increase? No. Do we have to ask for an increase? Yes.”
Harper told the board of an option the Cartersville City School System chose and what its repercussions would mean within the county system if it were adopted.
“When we talk about making reductions, we are talking about individuals. [Cartersville City Schools] moved to a seven-period instructional day the year after we did because I believe the seven-period day was more cost effective for us than a block schedule. One thing the city system did was move to the teachers teaching six periods a day. I believe to ask a teacher to do that is a lot. I was a high school teacher and I taught five classes and that was a lot of preparation for staff. If we were to move to teaching six periods that would be somewhere around 35-40 teaching positions would be lost at the high school level and we would ask our teachers to take on a lot more effort and a lot more work. It would mean asking teachers to take on 180 students as opposed to 150. Having been a teacher, myself, I believe that is too much to ask of our teachers,” Harper said.