Time for Fayette School Board to get serious about reducing costs, not just increasing class sizes

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When I last wrote, I suggested that the FCBOE consider strategies to reduce the cost of our teacher workforce while maintaining coverage and stopping the supersizing of our classrooms. I focused on strategies to introduce some younger teachers who can learn form our current excellent teachers to carry the traditions of our Fayette schools into the future.

While I encourage comments and debate in the Citizen blogs I was disappointed by one poster who concluded: “I’m sure, there are many, who would love to adopt a gig work model, effectively making all of the FCBOE employees (sans the School Board and Superintendent) 3rd party contractors…”. While no one suggested going to a gig approach to schools, there may be some merit to their comment.

First, to be fair, the poster’s position was against any adoption of the private industry practice of outsourcing; it may, however, be something we should consider.

There are areas that other schools/school systems have benefited from privatization. Areas to examine include food service, transportation, and janitorial/maintenance.

Next, it’s important to admit that there is no longer an endless flow of funds available to our schools as we are near the maximum tax milage rate and property tax valuation is capped below the current rate of our cost inflation rate.

Some will say they are willing to “pay what it takes” to fund our schools. However, I am unaware of many voluntary contributions above existing taxes.

Before looking at this opportunity, we must first state the obvious that great care around background checks must be taken before we introduce any person into our school environment. However, that is true today and should not be an easy off ramp to a difficult conversation.

Privatization opens the door to different compensation models that may be better to attract and retain talent while also maintaining service and controlling costs. Contract employees (or “Gig employees”) may prefer a slightly higher cash rate and forego benefits or pensions normally available to public sector employees.

In many of our workplaces, private contractors have taken over janitorial and maintenance without significant loss of service. This is one opportunity to outsource as a system or break the overall contract into subsets to allow small businesspeople across Fayette an opportunity to bid on contracts and serve our schools.

There are larger food service companies across our area as well as smaller catering companies that serve some of our area private schools today. The larger companies can leverage their buying power to get better pricing to lower food costs and keeping the cost of school lunch reasonable.

Last, outsourcing transportation can include the provision and maintenance of buses as well as drivers. Again, using a larger private company, we may find better options for drivers than are currently available in the public setting.

This may seem extreme or abrupt, but the facts remain that salary, benefits, and other personnel costs continue to project to out-strip the growth in locally generated revenue.

Our Fayette County Public schools’ only strategy is continuation of supersizing of the classroom while deferring examination and recalibration of administrative costs.

Some have argued that the public must witness/feel the impact of reduced revenue as reduced and eliminated service to feel urgency to vote for an increase in school taxes to produce more revenue to facilitate more spending. We see this tactic in private business. We can and should do better. A public presentation and examination of options should be forthcoming.

In our personal finances, as well as at our employers, rising costs are pressuring wallets and we are all seeking ways to make more with less. It is time the Fayette County Schools demonstrate an urgency to address our revenue issues and present a plan to maintain our excellent schools that benefit all of our students.

[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.]

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have heard a suggestion each administrator should teach at least one class and maintain a personal responsibility to make the class successful. The objective is to refamiliarize the administrators with teacher needs and the effects of policies on those needs. A clear example is the Superintendent’s recent and overall classroom experiences paired with policy creation and sustainment. The same might be said of all administrative positions. I have also heard it said many equipment and technology acquisitions hinder teaching success.

  2. This is downright dangerous talk. We have great schools don’t ruin them. And for the love of god the teachers are underpaid and understaffed – that’s the last place we should be looking to cut costs. Everyone who knows anything about public education in this county knows that it’s the administrative positions that are the source of all the bloat and all of the wrongheaded moves our schools have made. There are way too many administrators shoveling crap onto our teachers like steam train trying to set a speed record. Eliminate administrative positions and let our teachers teach.