Last week, our Fayette County Public School system voted to approve over $6.5 million dollars to fund the renovation of J.C. Booth Middle School. That is after approving $46 million to build a new J.C. Booth Middle School which is scheduled to open in two years.
The reasons given to spend money to renovate a school our system no longer needs, and shortly not using, were two-fold. First, if we spend money to renovate Booth while it was still occupied, we will earn an additional $6.5 million to spend on Booth from the state of Georgia. But if we are not going to use it, why spend any money?
We are told that Clayton State and Southern Polytechnic “have shown interest” in using the site. In other words, our Fayette County schools are speculating with $13 million of our tax dollars. If there is an agreement, it should be publicly disclosed and the terms examined. If they want to use the site, should they not contribute funding to renovate the site?
At the time of the vote, we were all aware that the current Coronavirus health crisis has impacted ESPLOST collection of sales tax and the record unemployment will likely impact future property tax collections. In other words, the dark clouds of financial trouble are gathering and reasonable people would take caution.
What was not known until Friday was that the leaders of our legislature have announced that all areas of the budget, including education, will be cut 14% or 1/7th of the total. Based on the FCBOE 2019 financial report, approximately $15 million in state funding could be at risk.
We have seen what can happen in times like this, before the great recession, the state of Georgia began “austerity cuts” which over a decade cost our schools over $100 million in funding we legally earned. These cuts resulted in closed schools, furloughed teachers, and higher class size.
The state was in budget crisis before the Coronavirus situation and practical people believe the financial effects of the Coronavirus will be felt over multiple years. Therefore, it is very reasonable to expect that our schools may be short-funded by our state for the next few years.
I believe it is reckless to spend $13 million of our tax dollars with the hope that we get a tenant. Clayton State will be impacted by the same funding cuts our schools will take. Needless to say, we need more information to make a prudent decision, but we must protect our classroom funds.
Over my 30-year finance career, I have had to ask tough and uncomfortable questions like this to vet decisions to improve or acquire assets and make strategic financial plans. Many reasonable people believe the financial times have changed and we need to make better financial decisions. Personally, I believe it is always necessary to make the best financial decisions we can.
Candidate for Post 3, Fayette County Board of Education
Peachtree City, Ga.