With budget time for local governments having arrived, the one budget that makes me scratch my head is the spending explosion at the Fayette County School System.
After you read this, I’d like to hear from you. Email me (editor@TheCitizen.com) and the Fayette County Board of Education (each member’s email address follows this column).Other local governments have notched modest increases in the past four years, it’s true. But school system spending has expanded by $44.5 million or 24 percent since the 2016 budget.
Well, surely, you might say, it’s because we have had to serve more children. So how many more kids will we have in the coming year, compared to 2016?
Let’s do the math. In 2016, the system educated 20,093 students. In 2020 the system projects educating 20,400 children. That’s an increase of 307 students. Not nothing, but nowhere near a flood. It’s an increase of 1.5 percent over 2016. Let me spell that out: one and one-half percent more students.
The budget for 2016 was $185 million. Next year the budget is $229.5 million — a difference in that short time of $44.5 million.
Let’s look at it another way: In 2016 for $44.5 million less the system educated more than 98 percent of the number of kids it expects to educate next year.
Did those unfortunate 2016 graduates receive an inferior education because $44.5 million less was spent on them and the grades beneath them?
One really good question that hasn’t been asked publicly is how many really first-class educational benefits has that added $44.5 million measurably provided for the students?
School system advocates might argue that teachers’s raises and benefits costs have caused a lot of that increase, and that it couldn’t be helped.
If any businessperson faced such an explosion of personnel costs, that person might logically be expected to freeze hiring, or at least slow down any staff growth.
But here’s the approach our school system is taking: Hire new staff as if the gold rush has arrived. By the end of next year, the system will have hired 283 additional positions — not replacements for departing staff — but all NEW positions, and all from 2016 to 2020.
Compare that hiring spree with the number of expected new students in that same 2016-to-2020 time frame: 307 added kids. From 20,093 in ’16 to 20,400 in ’20.
Folks, that is amazingly close to one new staff person hired for each new student added. The actual ratio is 1.1 new kids versus 1 new staff member.
Frankly, to me, that is an astonishing ratio, and is one that the school system and the Fayette County Board of Education are obligated to explain in detail and to justify to the taxpaying public.
Only board member Barry Marchman has raised even a small objection to what appears to be an indefensibly bloated budget.
For perspective, with just the $44.5 million school budget increase from 2016 forward, you could run Peachtree City for its next fiscal year and still have $5 million left over (the city’s FY 2020 budget will be about $39.3 million).
The other elected school board officials seem to think our tax money grows on their trees, and that they don’t have to account for their inexplicable spending.
Well, Mr. and Mrs. Public — is school spending in Fayette like the Medicare for All being pushed by some national politicians? Is there ANY spending limit that can be expected if the only answer to any fiscal question is this: “But it’s for the children”?
I know if Fayette has any sacred cows, its fattest one is the school system. Despite what critics might say, I don’t want to kill the sacred cow. I just want to put it on a keto diet. A well-supervised keto diet.
Email your thoughts to me (editor@TheCitizen.com) and to each member of the Board of Education (no single email address goes to the entire board):
Chairman Scott Hollowell (email@example.com)
Vice-Chairman Roy Rabold (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Brian Anderson (email@example.com)
Barry Marchman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Leonard Presberg (email@example.com)
[Cal Beverly is editor and publisher of The Citizen. He happily paid school taxes for six kids who got good educations in Fayette schools for a lot less money.]