With Fayette schools’ budgets squeezed, it’s time to decide where more money comes from


A few years ago, the voters of Fayette County decided to limit the school property tax growth due to increased property value to three percent a year. The remainder of the growth is restricted by a homestead exemption. Others argue that this additional homestead exemption unfairly limits the funds available to our schools. I disagree.

It’s important to note that in the current salary market a raise of three percent is considered at least standard if not more. The paychecks of Fayette County families have not maintained pace with the growth in costs in the current economy. Worse, even if the property increased in value more than three percent, the property owner does not have access to that cash unless they sell that property.

Now, there is a bill (SB 349) in our Georgia Senate to limit all property valuation increases at 3% which would equalize Fayette’s homestead exemption with all other systems. Today, many systems use double digit property growth to cover the increased school costs of recent years without raising school tax rates.

With a standard homestead exemption across Georgia, many systems, not just Fayette, will have to consider raising rates to maintain their school systems or decide to eliminate options for students. Fayette is already signaling they will eliminate teaching positions and increase class size, thus decreasing “the Fayette Advantage.”

Fayette County school tax is currently at 19.25 mills, which is near the maximum of twenty mills allowed by law without the permission of the voters.

That last part is important. The FCBOE can ask the voters to allow them to increase the school property tax over twenty mills. Currently there are a few systems over twenty mills with DeKalb the most notable at 22.98 mills.

Some will argue that we are taxed enough and that the schools must “live within their means.” Fayette is one of the few counties that voted down an ESPLOST. We the voters have proven to take these votes seriously, not just blindly voting on ideology or emotion, but voting based on information.

To be clear, I am not taking a position one way or the other, as I would need to see the case presented. Some are willing to hurt our schools to make a point without discussing our options; I am not.

When our citizen group, Fayette Citizen for Children, made our case in 2008, we presented the data to the voters and we the voters decided to grant our FCBOE the authority by only a few hundred votes. In 2012, the FCBOE proved we could trust their word, and the ESPLOST was renewed again by less than a thousand votes. Both votes were during a presidential election where all sides were coming to vote.

It is important to note that the FCBOE wisely avoided projects that would seem wasteful to the public like the aquatic center in ESPLOST I, astroturf for all in ESPLOST II, and the arts center in ESPLOST III.

In each election, all voter questions were discussed and answered in public forums such as the blogs of this newspaper. I can remember getting the pricing of routers for the “Classroom of tomorrow” and a commenter saying that Mr. Creely (FCBOE IT director at the time) did an excellent job of sourcing.

My point is that a partnership between the FCBOE is possible to preserve the Fayette Advantage. Not with an argument “to do it for the kids,” but rather proving a transparent and credible plan.

A vital part of any plan starts with good cost control that preserves vital needed resources at the cost of non-productive or non-vital resources.

[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.]


  1. Perhaps it would be useful to see info on how much money our schools spend per pupil? And a few things like how many administrators and other non-teaching personnel and their cost? Something a bit more specific than terms like “fully fund”.

    In the recent past there have been quite a few revelations of colleges with almost as many administrators as students – just an example of how a governmental entity can build itself a kingdom.

    Almost any organization that isn’t forced to economize and avoid excesses will end up with a lot of bloat. I’ve worked with a number of non-profit organizations over the years that ran into tough financial times and were forced to cut expenses. At first, they cried that all the staff would leave, they wouldn’t be able to serve their clients, it’d be apocalyptic Then it turned out that they didn’t really need a 2nd assistant vice deputy administrator or the weekly catered staff lunches. You get the drift.

    Our schools may be running a lean & mean operation, but I’d like to see data and info to get comfortable.

  2. A most excellent presentation for consideration and certainly a worthy subject to discuss. Booth Middle School remains a sore point with me, as was the Performing Arts Center.

    My current and flexible thoughts to submit for discussion:
    1. I am willing to support a tax increase to support and improve our county’s public education opportunities.
    2. If the FCBOE solely funds and maintains ownership of a substantial Performing Arts Center, I will now support it.
    3. Unless the State fully funds adequate public education and the State does not approve the private-school vouchers bill, I am reluctant to contribute more toward public education.

    • Hi Doug

      We are agreed on Booth. That is why I’m out of the ESPLOST business and voted no on the last one. Well that and the tennis courts for every school when we have a “world class” tennis center and the auxillary gyms…. and single issue vote held on February 30th.

      As far as the Arts Center it was $20M. I would prefer to put that money into security systems such as Evolve which is better than magnetometers. As far as staffing it, where would the money come from? If you search, you will see Trillith (nee Pinewood) developer Dan Cathy called the Arts Center the jewel of HIS development.

      Looks like some form of the voucher bill may pass limiting it to th ebottom 25% of Georgia’s schools.

      • We agree on the main points, security is more important than art. Traditional (Maslow I think) concept, I can go with that. It was the Pinewood and other private affiliation that I opposed. Unless it’s the most important thing for the times, like security, I like to keep public and private concerns (accountably) separate. We need to improve our industrial base, but not beginning with the arts. As for the tennis courts, I think that can be a community centric money maker. With our tennis center, public school tennis courts provide an immediate feeder into the tennis center’s future. But, like art, security is more important.

  3. Actually, I disagree. If the homestead limitation is spread across the entire state, it levels the playing field. Endless property tax increases based on the growth of the property value is not fair to the property owners because the growth in value is unrealized (no increase in cash on hand) while the increase tax actually costs cash.

    Our system has a problem due to its tax base being heavily senior, which is made worse by the drive of some to push multiunit “affordable housing” when we can’t pay for the 20,000 we got.

    Quality education is not driven by a bonfire of money but has a significant cost that Fayette’s taxpayers have long paid.

    Unfortunately, the FCBOE has taken the sad well trodden path of trying to take from the students to prove the point. Unfortunately, I think that the state may force the issue with SB 349.

    We need to seriously look at our costs especially our admin costs. Like all corporations we need to determine need versus nice in our HQ.

  4. We need to accept the fact that Georgia is a low tax, no service state. A state that places little or no value on public education, as evident by its decision to only fully fund its public education budget 3 times since 2007. A State that is more than happy to provide private school vouchers, while they continue to cut funding for public education; all the while imploring public educators to do better. A state that makes it illegal for Counties to raise property taxes, to close the widening fiscal gap created by a State that refuses to provide for the basic health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. Georgia is a taker state, a stupid state.

      • Esteban the state’s QBE ( Quality Basic Education ) formula is based on a number of specific to the school system and calculates an amount due. That amount is rolled up into the amount of education asked for.

        However, the legislature then decides how much they will fund. gplanman is correct that the amount has only been “fully funded” three times since 2008. However, its different than the business world as the QBE is determined by facts and formulas, there is no way to sandbag.

        However, other areas can sandbag or ask for too much so when the total is too big overall and the legislature cuts a % then other budgets give up sandbags, education gives up teachers.

        There have been years where there has been a sales tax holiday AND teacher furlough days due to lack of funding.

        Take Care

        • Fair enough, but how many times has the State actually cut funding? And if they have, how much? Or is this a case of the increase not being as much as someone wanted, therefore it’s a “cut”?

          And I’d like to know where money is being spent before I accept that there is a lack of funding.

          Curious about the complaint about vouchers – when a student receives a voucher the public school loses some funding but also has one less student it has to teach. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) the school loses less money than the average per pupil amount, so they end up with more money per pupil.

          • Hey Esteban
            In 2023, Fayette received approximately 12,980 per student. $6,643 or 51.18 % is local money/ 5,502 was state money. We earned $141M in the QBE formula which was offset by $32M reduction in 5 MIL fair share. Because we are “rich” we do not get an equalization offset. The crazy thing is that the QBE offset contains the full value of our property digest without any regard for exemptions from property tax/

            I start on spending in Mid April. The cost increases in Pension and Benefits is crazy. But like anything else the question is how do we manage it.

            Vouchers I agree. Local spending pupil would go “up” if there the same money was earned and there were less total students.

        • Neil – I think you’re making a point I believe, when the school system isn’t getting everything they want they claim they’ll have to fire teachers rather than look for places to economize. Not a shock, Police and Fire use similar tactics, so does almost anyone to defend their budget.

          • I would argue that just because the legislature hasn’t allocated 100% of the amount the QBE determines, that doesn’t mean the schools don’t have sufficient funds. And it works the other way around – 100% of the QBE could be insufficient.

            As noted in an earlier rant of mine – I’d like to see figures on funds per pupil, administrative staff and salaries, i.e., where is the money going. I’m open to persuasion that they’re efficient or not, but need numbers and data.

          • Hi Esteban

            I am organizing data using OpenGA to sift some truths. I have come not to trust the classifications on the state QBE reports. More to come on that.

            The biggest reduction in state funding was around 2012 it was about $10M. It was then we closed 4 schools got rid of full parapros and raised class size. At one point, the total shortage was near $100M but that’s from memory so take it as you will.