School finances: Fayette’s vs. Coweta’s

Do taxpayers get more bang for the buck in Coweta?
Putting budget categories side by side, how does the Fayette County School System stack up to the comparably sized system in neighboring Coweta County?
Here’s the comparison in one paragraph:
Coweta has more schools, more students and more teachers but expects to spend less money at a lower tax rate this coming school year. The student-teacher ratio in both systems is nearly identical.
Here’s the breakdown:
Fayette has 24 schools, Coweta has 28.
Fayette has 20,100 students, Coweta has 22,341 — more than 2,000 more than Fayette.
Fayette has 1,450 full-time-equivalent employees assigned to classrooms, Coweta has 1,520 — 70 more teaching positions. Those numbers produce a student-teacher ratio of 13.8 students per teacher for Fayette, 14.6 for Coweta (based on numbers of students in each system at the end of the 2015-16 school year).
How about other employees, not assigned directly to classrooms? Fayette has 1,250 of those full-time equivalents, while Coweta has 1,455.
The counties diverge on budget totals and tax rates. Fayette just adopted a 2016-17 budget of nearly $193 million; Coweta approved a budget of $186.5 million, $6 million less than Fayette.
Fayette’s school tax rate is set at the state maximum of 20 mills and has been for more than a decade, while Coweta is running its system on a rate of 18.59 mills, a lower rate that’s also unchanged for more than a decade.
Fayette’s budget a year ago was $184 million while Coweta posted a budget of $179 million for the same year.
Fayette’s reserve account is $19.3 million, or 10 percent, while Coweta budgeted a reserve of just over $19 million.
Fayette’s budget includes 42 new classroom positions and 11 new central office and non-classroom positions.
Coweta for the coming school year added 17 new teachers, six assistant bus driers, a mechanic and two education technology specialists.
Staff in both school systems will receive a 3 percent cost-of-living increase.
In terms of staffing, Fayette will have approximately 2,700 FTEs (full-time equivalents) with nearly 1,450 of those assigned to classrooms. Coweta will be staffed with approximately 2,975 FTEs, of which nearly 1,520 are assigned to classrooms.
It should be noted that school systems, and consequently staffing to a degree, depends on areas of emphasis specific to the individual system.
Fayette had a year-end student enrollment of 20,100 while Coweta ended the year with 22,341 students.
Fayette County has 24 schools, including 13 elementary schools, five middle schools, five high schools along with open campus and alternative programs.
Coweta has 28 schools, including 19 elementary schools, six middle schools, three high schools and the Central Educational Center. Coweta also runs alternative middle and high schools.
The Fayette County Board of Education a number of years ago increased the millage rate to the state maximum of 20 mills, though Chairman Marion Key suggested in a recent meeting that the rate be decreased in August by up to a mill. That suggestion was voted down.
Coweta’s millage rate for FY 2017 will be 18.59 mills, a rate maintained since 2004.
Ranking school systems from an overall academic standpoint is something that is exceedingly difficult due to the variety of potential tools and indicators. And though it would be enlightening, ranking school systems is something that the Georgia Department of Education will not do.
Fayette schools are recognized as one of the better systems in the state and in most categories rank higher than Coweta. That said, Coweta continues to improve and, in cases such as SAT scores, students in two of Coweta’s three high schools score higher than students in two, and sometimes, three of Fayette’s five high schools.
The Citizen again this year compared the financial aspect of the budgets passed in June by the boards of education in Fayette and Coweta counties.
The FY 2017 budgets have been adopted and became effective July 1. — Reporting by BEN NELMS.