Dr. Kent Edwards, superintendent since February 2010, provided his board members a general fund revenue and expenditure history at this month’s work session, and the numbers reflect the system’s recent dedication to increasing student resources while minimizing increases in taxpayers’ cost.
“There’s a lot out there that’s political saying we’re spending outrageously without any results,” Edwards said. “That we’re raising local taxes and not improving our students’ education.”
The system, which closed its fiscal year 2012 books about a month after the 2012-2013 school year began, expended more in FY 2012 than in FY 2011, but received more than $1.5 million less in total revenue.
Local tax revenue was lower than FY 2006, before the economic downturn. The system received $11.87 million in local taxes in FY 2012, almost $1 million less than FY 2011.
Despite the decreased total revenue, the system has added or maintained several new learning programs and initiatives, including the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning program at Carrollton Middle, which was named the best such program in the state last week by the Technology Association of Georgia.
The system has also added an International Baccalaureate program at the high school, the Performance Learning Center as part of the Communities in Schools initiative, 21st Century Technology and 21st Century After School program, which keeps students on campus until around 6 p.m. daily.
“And all these programs are robust,” Edwards said. “I’m bragging a lot on our board and system, but we have tried very hard in these tough economic times to actually advance instead of receding.”
The system has also added students — 555 students since 2007 — a 12.2 percent increase in full-time equivalent numbers, where the system gets its state funding. This 12.2 increase in FTE has corresponded with a 2.1 percent increase in expenditures since 2007, a feat Edwards called “impressive.”
“When you think about how nothing has gone down — food at the grocery store, energy costs, the cost of fuel — everything has gone up in price,” he said. “The fact that we’re spending just a little more money on a lot more students is staggering, and it’s a credit to our board and the boards that have come before them for their vision.”
Coupled with this increase of students and decrease in revenues is also a per-pupil expenditure decrease. In 2007, $7,522 was spent per student; by 2012, that number had fallen $775 to $6,747.
“We talk a lot about how much more we can grow,” Edwards said. “We’ve got more square footage occupied now than we ever had. In our comparatively small space, we’re restricted to how many students we can add to our system. But I’ve told my board members that until we cannot accommodate every student and customize their learning experiences, we can keep adding to our numbers.”
One element that will raise local taxes for FY2013 came about when the Board of Education approved a 2-mill increase in July, raising the millage rate from 17.19 to 19.19.
“I saw that we have three choices here: raise taxes, fire teachers and thus increase class size, or cut a bunch of days out the calendar,” board member Dr. Jason Mount said during the July meeting. “And I have five kids — four of them in the system and one about to enter it — and I don’t want to see them lose any instruction time because of days off.”
Mount criticized the state government’s treatment of the educational system over the past few years.
“Even when the economy was doing well, the state government was dropping how much they were giving us,” he said. “It’s actually reprehensible to think of how little money they’ve given to the educational system, and it’s been developing for years.”
Board Chairman Dr. James C. Pope said the reason for the millage increase boils down to two issues.
“First of all, the state will not give us enough money,” he said. “And second, our elected officials have voted to eliminate property taxes to people over 65 years old. I daresay most of them could not pay those taxes.”
Edwards said the board has focused on spending more money on instruction instead of maintenance and operations, which has driven the system’s success in the last decade.
Maintenance costs fell more than $75,000 between 2011 and 2012, landing at $3,248,566 for the year.
“We have more square footage in operation for longer periods of time than we’ve ever had, but our maintenance and operations expenditures are remaining static or decreasing,” he said. “That’s remarkable.”