Faulty data mask BoE’s problems

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At the April 19 Fayette County Board of Education meeting, the board restored effective May 1 the remaining 3 percent of the 4.5 percent pay cut all school board employees took back in 2009. The board previously restored 1.5 percent of the pay cut in February of this year.

The March 2011 fund balance of $19.9 million was at an all-time record high and the balance may reach $21 million by the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2011. The March balance was almost triple the average fund balance over the past several years.

In an article I sent to The Citizen last year, I commented on how inaccurate the comptroller’s monthly financial forecasts have been for the last two or three years. Unfortunately, the accuracy has not improved.

The comptroller forecast a $5.2 million fund balance decrease for the FY2011 budget year. However, the March 2011 report shows a projected surplus of $2.6 million, an $8.9 million difference when $1.1 million to cover the 1.5 percent pay cut restored Feb. 1 is included. The fund balance may increase another $1.0 million by the fiscal year end, June 30, 2011.

The comptroller’s terribly flawed and grossly inaccurate monthly forecasts have made it virtually impossible for anyone to make an intelligent decision based on the information provided each month.

Dr. Jeffrey Bearden, superintendent, is expected to present the preliminary Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget numbers at the upcoming May 17, 2011 board meeting, which is open to public comment.

As a result of overbuilding and declining student enrollments, we now have an excess of school buildings, and we need to consider closing four surplus schools. Any students displaced through closings could be moved to other schools that have excess capacities.

Closing schools and moving students around is an emotional issue, but the need to do this has been apparent for some time. For whatever reason, the former superintendent, Dr. John DeCotis, evidently chose to ignore the problem, but that just kicked the can farther down the road.

It should be noted that the Georgia Department of Education reduces its monthly payments to districts that have excess school capacities.

The excess capacity problem can be illustrated by considering the situation created by Dr. DeCotis’ push to build the Rivers Elementary School on Sandy Creek Road. Rivers Elementary was built at a cost of $10 million to house 600 students, but, because of overbuilding, the school has about 75 children enrolled in an Exceptional Children’s Services program.

Fayette County student enrollment has been on a steady decline since hitting a peak of 22,367 in 2007 and is expected to decline to 20,500 in 2013.

The state of Georgia FY2010 QBE payments to the FCBOE of $86 million (about $4,100 per student) were based on a student enrollment of around 21,700. If the enrollment declines another 400 students between 2011 and 2013 as projected, the state QBE payments will decrease another $1.6 million ($4,100 @ 400). If school revenues drop, expenses will have to be cut.

To prevent an adverse affect on the quality of education, cuts must come from the top-heavy administrative and support groups before they begin cutting teachers.

Jim Richter

Peachtree City, Ga.