NEWS ANALYSIS — Proverbs tell us that the wise see danger and take precaution while fools continue (paraphrased). The yearn to provide “affordable housing” without planning out the likely scenarios and results is dangerous.
There are many options for our community to be weighed and considered as we move forward into the future. I appreciate all the voices coming forward and look toward further conversations. However, this former Clayton County resident sees danger for our schools in the prolific spread of apartments in East Fayette County and the discussion of “affordable housing” in Peachtree City.
Recently, I took issue with an editorial in the AJC that suggested that Fayette County schools children received more money in state and local funds than those in neighboring Clayton. In researching this issue, I came across information that surprised me
First, Clayton County School Property Tax payers pay a higher tax rate at 20 mills versus 19.15 for Fayette. Fayette County is 40% larger in land mass (199 sq mi v. 144) than Clayton County which has 140% more residents than Fayette County. The same is true for school population where Clayton’s schools have 150% more students.
To put this into perspective, Fayette and Clayton Counties combined are less than the land mass of Coweta County (343 sq. mi. vs. 441). However, the population of Coweta and Fayette Counties are less than Clayton County, which is smaller than the other two counties,
This is important as we discuss the current initiatives of multi-unit living situations across Fayette whether they are called apartments, condos, co-ops, small house communities, etc. We can see that Clayton is covered by such affordable, multi-unit housing.
Fayette already pays more than 51% of the education for our students to fund the “Fayette Advantage” of smaller class size and neighborhood schools, while the average school system in Georgia pays almost 43% of its public-school cost.
The question is whether the apartments spreading across Fayetteville will add the tax base necessary to cover the costs of students they add to our excellent Fayette County Public Schools.
Unfortunately, the municipal authorities of Fayetteville and now Peachtree City do not have to (and haven’t) coordinated with our school board to understand the potential effect of high-density multi-unit housing on a school system built for a more suburban model.
The funding formula under Georgia’s quality basic education (QBE) program is determined by the number of students, but the local funds are not. Therefore, it is possible to overwhelm the local property tax ability to properly fund its schools with poor planning.
While I appreciate the good intentions of all involved, we all know which roads are paved with good intentions. While our already crowded roads reflect the lack of planning and coordination between government entities, I hope we can all work together before we have larger problems.
[Neil Sullivan is a finance/accounting executive and CPA. He has lived in Peachtree City over 20 years with his wife Jennifer, a Fayette County History teacher and son Jackson, a sophomore at Erskine College. He has been active in public school related issues in Fayette County, leading three E-SPLOST initiatives as chairman of Fayette Citizens for Children. He has appeared previously on these pages in letters to the editor.]