Should Fayette be permitted to sell support services to smaller systems?


NEWS ANALYSIS — Back in college I had a managerial accounting professor who constantly reminded us that we needed to focus on “our share of the pizza.” Whether it be market share, bonus share, profit percentage, or any other attribute. Normally the total amount is fixed, and the question is how to divide it and who gets what slice.

While we talk about per student cost, the State of Georgia total budget for education is largely made up of fixed amounts that are determined by the state’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula. Ultimately, there is a set amount spent on public education.

Georgia has a budget surplus, in this current fiscal year, while in the past there have been deficits that are solved by taking money from budgets such as education. Deficits are allocated as reductions across the budgets. Sadly, some people see surplus as an opportunity to spend money.

As the legislature looks to tinker with the school funding formula, I fear Fayette and Coweta may lose funding to service other systems.

In FY 2022, Georgia has one-hundred-fifty-nine counties, each of which has its own public school system. The funding for these approximately 1.55 million students averaged $6,291.

However, these amounts ranged on a per student basis from $1,807 for Burke County to $13,542 for 165 Taliaferro County students. The variability is driven by fixed costs divided by the number of students.

The state’s QBE funding formula provides funding for things like one superintendent per system. There are four counties (Taliaferro — 165, Clay — 176, Webster — 233, Quitman — 256) that have a total of 830 students yet receive more than $9.4 million, or more than $11,400 per student. For perspective, Fayette County received $5,700 for each of our nearly 20,000 students.

No one is arguing that these systems should not have schools. But the question is the same as it was when I was addressing the “inequity” of Fayette providing more funds to its schools than Clayton could. In that case, Clayton’s local tax base is insufficient to support its approximately 50,000 students. In this case, these counties are small with small student populations.

However, do we have an obligation to pay for other systems’ choices? What happens when our tax base is insufficient for our schools?

While most agree that the State of Georgia should help fund these small systems, I think there should be an obligation or at least an expectation that each dollar is spent wisely and ponder whether certain resources such as curriculum development, Finance, HR, Transportation Management, as well as other central office functions can be combined to serve several systems. Alternatively, should the smaller systems buy these services from larger systems?

For example, according to, Clay County schools are paying for a Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent at a cost of over $1,500 per each of 176 students. To compare, Fayette County has a Superintendent and two Assistant Superintendents for almost 20,000 at a cost of approximately $33 a student.

In non-governmental business, careful examination of costs, especially management, are key to making dollars stretch in tight times such as these. Can or should they use outsourcing to get the services they need without hiring full time headcount?

State law already permits school districts to merge as well as purchase services from other districts. Can Fayette (or someone) sell support services leveraging our existing staff so that these systems get quality support, and our system can get a revenue source? Given our own funding pressures, we need to develop options as our own funding becomes more challenging in this time of rising costs.

With rising costs for payroll, benefits, retirement, and others, all of our school systems need to find solutions to address cost increases and revenue challenges.

For example, our own school board has said class size increase was possible due to revenue challenges without addressing central office costs or ineffective programs.

They can do better; we deserve it.

[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.]


  1. This is an interesting article. It sounds like “one size fits all” is economically very wasteful. I wish that the legislature would encourage flexibility (within reason) to accomplish the best educational outcomes for all students (not all systems). As Mr. Sullivan suggests, this would require different strokes for different folks.

  2. “For example, our own school board has said class size increase was possible due to revenue challenges without addressing central office costs or ineffective programs.

    They can do better; we deserve it.”