Expanding housing density threatens Fayette schools’ excellence


Early in the school year, our Fayette County Board of Education disclosed that raising costs would soon impact our school system, resulting in changes we have long fought to avoid. Labor costs are over 70% of our budget and increases, not only salary increases, but benefits and pension costs as well.

Given the current composition of our property tax digest coupled with our votes to limit school property taxes with an additional homestead exemption limiting growth to three percent, the FCBOE has advised they may need to increase class size, eliminate parapros, reduce staff and make other reductions due to costs outstripping revenues.

While I will dive into these matters in greater detail later,  I thought it was important to bring this concern as we explore the impact of dense multi-unit housing championed by our “progressive” mayors in Peachtree City and Fayetteville.

While the Mayor of Fayetteville points to awards for planning, it is difficult to understand how the proposed dense multi-unit communities will benefit existing taxpayers or our excellent and quality Fayette County schools.

There is no doubt these proposals will bring more children to our schools. However, there is no plan or analysis as how we will pay for them in our outstanding school system.

No, I would not agree this plan is managed growth, but rather chaotic action.

First, as we have discussed in the past, school funding is not driven by student population alone. Local funding, which is more than half of our school funding, is driven by property taxes.

It is doubtful that a dense multi-unit complex will generate enough property taxes to fund an increase in students living in these communities.

Next, funding from the State of Georgia is driven by formulas that assumes maximum class size and penalizes Fayette and Coweta for being “rich.”  These drivers indicate we will get more students in our schools but get proportionately less funds to do it.

We need to look over to Clayton County to see the third smallest county in Georgia based on land mass with 50,000 school students to see what can happen when you attract a student population without a property tax base to properly pay for the schools.

As we know from our own family budgets, costs are rising at a rate much higher than revenue coming in. We sometimes need to make do until hard times pass. However, It is unwise to seek more costs while we are struggling to pay current expenses

Some argue that we are not providing opportunities for entry level and working-class people to live especially in Peachtree City.

It is reasonable to ask, with a large inventory of new stacked housing already coming up eleven miles away in Fairburn, is providing people who do not already live here the shortest possible commute the greatest concern of our community? Especially at the possible expense of our excellent schools which have been built by so many over time?

Without the proper foresight of thoughtful planning, this push to grow our county’s population in these two cities without a plan to fund our schools is foolish and dangerous.

[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 student 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.]