Sunday, January 30, 2011

Emory Lavista Parent Council hosts Fran Millar, Mary Margaret Oliver and Joe Martin (Part 2)

Georgia is very fortunate to have a public servant as devoted, level-headed and thoughtful as Joe Martin. Joe has a vast knowledge of education issues in Georgia and has been instrumental in serving as a watchdog for our schools—even going so far as to run for state superintendent of schools last year. Joe also served as Executive Director of the Georgia School Funding Association, and was on the committee that wrote Georgia's Quality Basic Education funding formula. He expertly guided the crowd through the very tedious system of Georgia’s education funding called QBE (Quality Basic Education) at the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting Friday at Hawthorne ES.

In the formula, each student is assigned a “value”. A regular education high school student has a value of 1.0. Kindergartners have higher values and the value declines as children age. "Program" points are higher: gifted students receive 1.6 points and special education points can be even higher. This value is basically a multiplier and FTE represents revenue. Cost categories are assigned values as well, such as teachers, paras, counselors, textbooks, maintenance, social workers, operations, media specialists—all the components necessary to run a functional, effective schoolhouse are assigned an associated cost. So, students represent revenue and the others represent costs. These components are then layered one upon another creating a funding framework for each of our school systems statewide. The state allocates funding to systems based on the total number of students (FTE values) reported in October and then school systems reallocate those FTE points to individual schools. Principals then decide how to spend their allotted FTE "credits" (within state and federal laws).

Believe it or not, the dollars assigned as multipliers for schoolhouse essentials have not been updated since 1985! For example, the state budget still only allocates about $40 for a high school textbook. In addition, after adding the total number of “FTE” points and calculating the funding for a school system, the state—upon deciding that they don’t “like” or have the money to pay the number the formula produces—makes “austerity” cuts to the QBE budget! So, we have a double-whammy: first, there is no funding adjustment for inflation since 1985 and then the state makes arbitrary cuts to funding our schools. The state has a Constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education to our children, yet the state continues to abdicate it’s responsibility. These "austerity" cuts have left our education budget is where it is: crimped and snipped year after year until we now stand at the point where in order to bring funding to DeKalb schools (in today’s dollars) to the level it was in 1998, the state would need to increase it's annual contribution by 45.3%. Further, DeKalb County, then participates in “Equalization” where a portion of its revenue is given into a pot that is “redistributed” out to “poorer” counties (this is based on property tax revenue – so essentially if the county commissioners raise property taxes by a few mil some of those funds will go into a pot to be redistributed to poorer counties) – so now we have a “triple whammy.”

In answer to the “450” students per school number we have heard discussed in relation to our current redistricting conversation, Joe tells us that the state cares very little about our buildings and the numbers of students in them, as far as FTE funding. The 450 number is a result of basic expectations: 6 grades x 3 classes per grade x 25 students in each class. However, as Lynn Jackson informed us, it does matter to the state when it comes to funding construction projects for new schools and additions. The state won’t give us money for an addition to an over-crowded school if there are other schools that are under-utilized anywhere in the district regardless of their actual location in the county. Even here the 450 number is not magical as it pertains only to a small portion of new construction financing (ie whether a new elementary school receives state dollars primarily for a gym). And we learned that states do not count schools with less than 225 in construction funding formulas.

But for QBE FTE funding, the state merely takes the FTE count given them by the county in October (which can be amended in January), applies it to the QBE formula and sends a big “check” to each school system. It is up to school boards to spend that money as fiscally conservatively and effectively as possible. That means our school board needs to ensure that buildings are properly utilized, school staff is not redundant and other resources are not wasted.

Local school systems then reassign those FTE credits (with dollars attached) to individual schools where principals then decide how to spend their budget within the requirements of the law. Staffing requirements and extras beyond what the state sends is paid by local tax dollars. 450 seems to be a breaking point at which a school has enough state funding to hire an assistant principal but allows for no special staffing. When you have more students, of course, you get more funding and proportionately, principals can hire special staff such as art, music and PE. The state does not have a voice in how schools spend FTE dollars other than the fact that schools must stay within state laws for class size and special program staffing such as gifted. Federal laws mandate how special education money should be spent. [Please note: Principals play no role in filing the FTE count for their school.]

Joe encouraged us all to demand better funding from the state as mandated by our state Constitution. To illustrate the cuts made to education by the state, our funding responsibility has essentially flipped. In 1998, the state funded 49.2% of the revenue for schools, with local systems paying in 50.8%. In FY 2010, the numbers are drastically different: the state pays only 38.4% of the total school revenue, leaving local systems picking up 61.6% of the costs. We have dropped below the threshold necessary for the state to adequately fund education. Georgia is still ranked 49th in the nation and unless we seriously fund what we claim to be important, our ranking will not improve and our children will continue to suffer the lifelong repercussions of having received a poor education.

As Joe said, “this is not about ‘those’ kids—these our ‘our’ kids. Public education is for the public good.” Call or write your state legislator and demand the state of Georgia rise to it’s Constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate education for each and every child in our state.

===
For more in-depth but easy to understand information on FTE, click here and download a great Powerpoint called FTE for Dummies written by Paige Cooley of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

You quickly realize the fault of our school system starts at the top – the State. They (the people we elect) have chosen over and over to put education last. We, as taxpayers, could make more of a difference if we scream as loud to the state over austerity cuts and not revising the QBE as we do to the county over redistricting.

Anonymous said...

I disagree Anon 9:46. The money is there, when combining federal, state and local funding. The issue is how the Lewis/Tyson Central Office spends it, favoring bureaucracy over the school house.

The state's FTE formula is intended for the school hous. Federal funding can too easily be manipulated for the Central Office.

Eliminate the Office of School Improvement. Audit and then make cuts to school police, MIS, Sam Moss and of course, the Central Office.

Kim Gokce said...

"Audit and then make cuts to school police, MIS, Sam Moss and of course, the Central Office."

Every category you mentioned is in part empowered to bloat by the excessive number of schools we have in DeKalb. I am convinced that the public's best leverage to reduce our system "bloat" is too squeeze the school plant down to size and thereby have an impact on all the areas you mentioned.

Doing the reverse, cutting the service and admin depts before consolidating means services will suffer in the school houses we have. To me, this is common sense - we need to "right-size" our physical plant and then "right-size" the central services supporting that plant.

There can be some overlap in the right-sizing of the two but the plant must proceed in advance of the staffing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both: we are short money because the state is definitely short changing the county and we are being squeezed by equalization; at the same time we are clearly not using the money we get wisely or fiscally responsibly -- we clearly do not put the kids first -- to me it is quite obvious that DCSS is viewed as a jobs program for some privileged set of folks and the rest filters down to justify it and the education of the kids is the by-product and justification. If education of the kids was truly driving the system, the emphasis would start in the classroom and we would zero budget by putting the best teachers in place in the classrooms and providing them (as a system) with what they need with the resources we have from the local, state and federal funds that are available to us (the dollars are quite high in the aggregate), then we would provide those teachers with talented and experenced in-house administrators and county-wide administrators at the barest levels possible and put the barest constraints on them that are possible. We would have the emphasis of the entire system be on the children and not on the adults -- we would build it up from the bottom (zero based budgeting every year... everyone accounting for what they need - no one would be doing more than their one job save for some minor part time efforts-- they would be giving 125% to their current jobs). This, I guess is my 2020 vision and why I think we have enough money and we're not spending it right and why I think the real answer may very well be vouchers to force the issue.

Dunwoody Mom said...

I am going to repost as I missed Page 2:

The GADOE posts the QBE Payment information on their website.

The actual payment advice with breakdown per program is listed on the document.

On January 31, DCSS will receive a payment of $30,263,836 on QBE earnings of $44,434.171.

There was also a deduction in payment to DCSS for $179,004 for Charter Commission Local Revenue.
Is this the amount that DCSS has to pay to the non-DCSS charter schools? If so, that means that on a yearly basis the students of DCSS are losing over $2 million to students in non-DCSS schools.

Anonymous said...

Let's be honest...it's both. The state has been run for years by folks who do not value education. I am scared for my kids in these school systems, as the lack of respect for education permeates our government approaches to spending - starting at the state and trickling down, so to speak. So, the state certainly has had an effect on the school house. (ps. I still really don't understand QBE - wish someone could explain it. Seems like DeKalb is not a wealthy county by any means - state needs to look at forclosure rates etc., in determining who are senders and receivers - but that may be based on my lack of understanding). As well, the county is mis-managing and making poor spending decisions, further debilitating provision of what education education is possible given the paucity of state funding.

Anonymous said...

Do not expect "Equalization" whereby money from DCSS with the largest number of Title 1 schools in the state sends money to wealthier Gwinnett (I believe the amount for many years has been around $50,000,000 - yes that's 50 million) and other counties. This happens when you don't update your laws. However, Gwinnett as a large county with many legislative members has sidestepped this for many years.

I do not think this would be easy to change since Gov. Deal is from Gwinnett. We will probably have to bite the $50,000,000 transfer from DeKalb to Gwinnett and other "poor" systems ad infinitum.

Anonymous said...

To those of you who say that the state should give more money to the school system, I ask the question: "where does the state get the money from?"

Anonymous said...

I think 7:40 hits the nail on the head on this one. I'm not saying that the state can send more money in this climate (look at unemployment rates and lower incomes across the state). The issue for me is that we are taking away (as I understand it - but would love to have this truly explained) from our county - which seems to have a large number of poor students - to send to other counties that do not seem to need these funds to the same degree as DeKalb.

I am concerned about the lack of interest in reviewing the formula. Clearly, if there have been major shifts within our county, it is probably that between county shifts have also occurred. The state needs to address these concerns to ensure that QBE is appropriately adjusted on a regular basis. Talk about serious consequences of irregular review.

Even if the outcome would lead to the same "redistribution" - the perception is a problem. This is why review and openness are necessary.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 8:56

"To those of you who say that the state should give more money to the school system, I ask the question: "where does the state get the money from?"

From you and I. The taxes that flow from the counties to the state are then doled back out to local education systems. The system was set up in the mid 80s with QBE to "equalize" the rural systems' and wealthier urban systems such as Atlanta City, DeKalb County and Cobb County. Gwinnett Co. was considered "rural". Dekalb and Atlanta City and Cobb were much wealthier at that time.

I assume everyone knows that Georgia has more counties than any other state in the U.S. except Texas. Since we have 159 counties, and only a few are in the metro area, that means the metro area has less representatives for our population. Even though the assembly is supposed to be based on population, very small counties still get a legislators when they might not get one based on representation. After all, they have to have some form of representation. This causes an imbalance in favor of the rural areas.

Gwinnett Co. was classified as "rural" all those years ago even though it is the most populous county in the metro area now. It has been most advantageous to Gwinnett Co. and the zillions of other rural counties to keep this in place.

So our taxes continue to flow into the state of Georgia coffers and the portion that comes back to us is always much less.

Do not expect this to change since our governor is from Gwinnett. Even if he wanted to change it, he would be fighting a legislature dominated by the many Gwinnett legislators and the many, many legislators who come from the numerous rural counties.

All the more reason that the DCSS administrators use our money wisely.

Anonymous said...

Re: "Equalization grants." Can anyone provide an update on the legal suit brought by rural GA counties against GA DOE?

(Claim: State is failing to provide "quality, basic education" under constitution to poorer counties whose lower tax digest can't make up balance of shrinking state funds.)

The State just cut $112 million in Equalization grants in the 2010 budget so I wonder how their suit stands…

Again, we may petition State to fully fund QBE or replace that outdated formula, but will that make a difference??

Anonymous said...

"Further, DeKalb County, then participates in “Equalization” where a portion of its revenue is given into a pot that is “redistributed” out to “poorer” counties (this is based on property tax revenue – so essentially if the county commissioners raise property taxes by a few mil some of those funds will go into a pot to be redistributed to poorer counties) – so now we have a “triple whammy.”"

That's true. The higher our property taxes go, the richer we are considered. So a greater percentage of our property taxes will go to the "poorer" schools who have lower property taxes. You are considered "rich" if your property taxes are high and "poor" if your property taxes are low.

Now you see why when Eugene Walker and other BOE members say just raise property taxes, it' a very bad idea. If DCSS raises the millage rate, we might only see 50% of that money, because 50% many go to the "poorer" counties as part of "equalization". Dr. Walker and other BOE members are willing to let us bear that hardship in order to get 50 cents on the dollar, but that's a very poor business decision for taxpayers and ultimately students.

I'm still waiting to see how many teacher positions Ms. Tyson recommends cutting this year. All she has to do is not fill the positions of teachers who did not sign contracts. That's so much easier for her and the BOE to do than actually "cut" non-teaching personnel - they rarely leave unlike teachers in DCSS who have a very high attrition rate.

For example:
When one of the 4th teachers leave and Ms. Tyson doesn't fill that position (i.e. cuts that position), then the other two teachers will have all of the 3rd graders to teach. Not a problem to her since she asked for and the BOE gave her permission to raise class sizes. Now my rising 3rd grader will be in a class of 30+ students instead of 24 students. Can you see why she can say she didn't cut teachers. That's true - she didn't cut teachers - she just let them leave and didn't replace them. That's called cutting a teaching position.

To my 3rd grader it doesn't matter if she cut the teacher or the position. The effect is still the same. My child is in a classroom with 30% more students. He will get much less attention. There will be more discipline problems. The teacher will be more stressed and have less time to devote to planning and grading.

Ms. Tyson and the BOE have done what is expedient for the DCSS admin and support group and the non-teaching personnel, but she has not done what's educationally sound for students. It started with Lewis cutting 275 teaching positions year before last and continued with her cutting 100 teaching positions this past year. They never should have touched teaching positions.

Cut a percentage of counselors, parent facilitators, lead teachers for special ed, instructional coaches, instructional coordinators, security personnel, MIS personnel, Fernbank Science Center, Assistant Principals - all of these cuts will not impact students academically like cutting teacher positions. In addition, she will get more "bang for the buck" when she makes cuts in these areas since these personnel are so much more highly paid than the average teacher. Each one of these groups are "cost centers". They need to be cut by a percentage. DCSS students will not feel these cuts like they are feeling and will feel cuts to teaching positions.

The school system is not a jobs program. It must be run for the students or it will fail in its primary mission - to educate children.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 10:21 AM and everyone,

On the question of whether there's enough federal, state and local funding, consider this:

Per Joe Martin's handout: "The funding for the basic formula (FY 2012) will be cut by $61 million in state funds and $141 million in federal stimulus funds. Since the austerity cut each year builds on the cuts in previous years, the cumulative total in FY 2010 would be $1.3 billion. When including (cuts to) categorial grants for transportation and nursing, the total allotments to local school systems would fall by about $254 million, or $153 per student."

I don't quite understand the $254 million number as it relates to "local school systems" (there are 180 in Georgia, but $$$ are given on "per student" basis.) BUT if the state's portion of QBE equates to $153 less per student, wouldn't that equal about $15 million less for Dekalb's 100,000 students?

Assuming we recovered that $15 million (Ernst & Young audit) in C/O salary bloat (is this Office of Student Improvement??) this might keep funding at FY 2010 levels next year, but what happens after that??

Joe's handout also says state funding is $2 billion less than originally intended under QBE, which means $30,000 less for every class of 25 students!

Anonymous said...

Does everyone realize that Gwinnett and other 'receiving' counties have no motivation to change the QBE funding formula?
What is the likelihood of legislators from those school districts voting to change the formula? Yes, sending counties like DeKalb would like to see it changed but could get outvoted in attempting to do so.

As Joe Martin said, though QBE provided a great framework in the mid 80's, it has not been updated to take into account the cost realities of today. The formula when originally conceived was built on 450/elementary school. Who is to say that number wouldn't be higher if the formula was updated with today's factors.

Anonymous said...

I was in a DeKalb Co. gov't meeting last week, and good ole Gene Walker was there and brought up a property tax increase. He thinks the public is crazy for pushing for any kind of budget cuts, as he said they have already been cut to the bone. Granted, he has 5-6 relatives who work for the system.

In Gene's world, the bloated Central Office, no return on investment Office of School Improvement dept, school police dept, MIS, Sam Moss, etc. are all hunky dory. He wants higher property taxes to keep the gravy train flowing. He just doesn't get it and it's embarassing that he's already won two BOE elections.

Anonymous said...

While it would go absolutely nowhere, I'd still like to see the DeKalb, Fulton, and Cobb delegations put forward a proposal to do away with the current system of equalization, if only to highlight how unjust it is.

Cerebration said...

NOTICE OF DEKALB BOARD OF EDUCATION PUBLIC BUDGET INPUT HEARING:

On Thursday, February 3, 2011, at 6:00pm, the DeKalb Board of Education will hold a Public Budget Input Hearing in the J. David Williamson Board Room at the DeKalb County School System's Administrative & Instructional Complex, 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain.

The purpose of the Hearing is to receive input from the public regarding the taxpayers’ priorities in preparation for the development of the 2011-2012 school system budget. The agenda for the hearing is attached.

The agenda can be accessed online by going to: www.dekalb.k12.ga.us, click on Leadership, go to eBoard Home Page and click on the date for the meeting agenda.

Anonymous said...

Dr Walker's son is now head of the DeKalb County Housing Authority. He had a slight conflict of interest problem, he did business with the Authority, but that was overlooked. The investigation of the missing $2.5 million from the Authority charged to the lady who Walker Junior succeeded seems to have disappeared.

Does anyone know if Judge Joy Walker who ruined the DeKalb County Recorders Court is related to Gene?

Anonymous said...

FTEs GIVE APPEARANCE OF LEGITIMACY

* FTE funding with its 6 segments and one day snapshot view funding is merely a mechanism giving an appearance of legitimacy
* The state computers crunch the numbers with an antiquated formula and give a printout of allocations by category... then the state gives us much less funding than recommended = austerity cuts
* The county receives the mass numbers and then breaks them down by school

* FTEs are assigned at will by the system to the school house
* FTE's can be given or removed at will by the system to the school house as "projections" change
* Demographic Projections are not explained
* There are no overt checks on the assignment of points at the district to school level
* Our questions are those of ignorance:

1. If a student is gifted but no class is available the school loses gifted funding for the student. How this is reported, tracked and how this student once again becomes profitable as gifted is not known by us
2. FTE counts from the county can change dramatically from the OCT count to the March to the beginning of the school year. Principals are expected to staff with the counts they ARE GIVEN
3. Principals may file an appeal if they are unable to staff with the counts they are given but many principals are quite creative and good at using pints to their best advantage -- It is an art

Government Grants said...

These components are then layered one upon another creating a funding framework for each of our school systems statewide. So we all can issue them immediately.

Anonymous said...

But then DCSS converts the FTEs into "points" in a way that isn't done in other systems. In this way, some individual schools seem to be losing funding for gifted kids and, maybe also for IEPs because DCSS is "pooling" and "redistributing' funds based on points rather than keeping the funds as dollars attached to specific children specifically identified and funded as gifted or IEP -- this is probably the way that DCSS has been able to get "extra" funding for the magnets at the expense of the "home" schools and the gifted and, possibly, IEP kids left in the home schools. The charts showing the "gifted" kids reported, per school, to the state do not come close to 'matching' the gifted kids being funded by "points" by DCSS -- no other system seems to use the point system.

Anonymous said...

@ 12:46
"He wants higher property taxes to keep the gravy train flowing. "

My understanding is that under QBE equalization whereby counties considered "rich" like Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb (because we pay such high property taxes) send money into the state and we never get the same amount back. We lose tens of millions a year this way. On the other hand, Gwinnett Co. (being a "poor" county with low property taxes) GAINS tens of millions.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if DCSS raises the millage rate, won't a portion of that be sent to the "poorer" counties? So for every dollar more we pay in property taxes, we'll only get maybe 75 cents back? I believe DCSS is at the max and any more property tax dollars will result in less dollars back.

I thought that was one of the biggest controversies. Of course, maybe Walker has factored this in and figures that we can afford to have part of these increased tax dollars going to the "poorer" counties like Gwinnett. This seems to add insult to injury.

After the tax increase Ellis just put in place, I'm paying around $400 a month on a modest ranch house. I'm retired with no children in the system (my child went through DCSS many years ago). It's getting to be a real strain on a fixed income.

Anonymous said...

Why do Senior Citizens not pay property taxes? I have never heard of this as seniors pay where I grew up. What is going to happen as the baby boomers become seniors? Who will pay for the education of the children as fewer people are paying into the system?

Raising taxes while there is so much waste and corruption in the system is not an option in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

@ 2:42 pm

"Why do Senior Citizens not pay property taxes?"

I'm a Senior and I pay almost $400 a month (see my post above anonymous 2:28 pm) or $5,000 a year. My friend who lives in Cobb Co. only pays $800 a year. Her school portion dropped off at 62. No so in DeKalb.

Look up BOE member Paul Womack's property taxes. I did, and he's paying a so much lower than me. I called the property tax people and asked why his tax code was different than mine (resulting in drastically lower peoperty taxes) even though his house was valued at so much more than mine. The guy in the Property Tax office said his code showed he was in a low income bracket (is this the same man than posters say funded his BOE campaign with tens of thousands of his own money?). The guy in the Property tax office said maybe he made a low income one year and then got his taxes adjusted downwards. After that, he says they never check again on your income. No wonder our tax system is so messed up.

I agree - it's bizarre.

I honestly don't mind paying property taxes for schools. After all the children of today will be our doctors and lawyers and plumbers and tax payers tomorrow so we all have a stake in their getting a good education.

However, I expect that money to be used for children's education and to be used wisely. Racketeering indictments at the highest level of the school system, trips on the county P-card having nothing to do with business, having the highest paid employees in non-teaching positions, and having a admin and support staff that dwarfs teacher numbers are not my ideas of wisely using tax dollars for children.

Anonymous said...

"Look up BOE member Paul Womack's property taxes. I did, and he's paying a so much lower than me. I called the property tax people and asked why his tax code was different than mine (resulting in drastically lower peoperty taxes) even though his house was valued at so much more than mine. The guy in the Property Tax office said his code showed he was in a low income bracket (is this the same man than posters say funded his BOE campaign with tens of thousands of his own money?). The guy in the Property tax office said maybe he made a low income one year and then got his taxes adjusted downwards. After that, he says they never check again on your income. No wonder our tax system is so messed up."


This is a perfect story for the I-Team on Fox 5 or the Atlanta Unfiltered blog to cover.

I've heard Womack/Foghorn Leghorn speakin person and brag about how much he made as a successful businessman.

He's a public figure. If he played some games with his income, and it's not being properly adjusted for his current salary, then this is a big possible scandal.

Heck, we know what he makes from his DCSS salary. Add that to his other income. He has big brass ones if he is paying low property taxes when he shouldn't be.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 4:34

"He's a public figure. If he played some games with his income, and it's not being properly adjusted for his current salary, then this is a big possible scandal."

All I asked the property tax guy about was the code on his property taxes. I wanted to know what it took to get that code on my property tax online information so I could get lower property taxes. He is a senior citizen, so maybe the property tax guy was wrong. Maybe his age has something to do with it. I'm older too so I thought maybe my age would get me a discount.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between high income and wealth. If you're smart (and Womack is smart) you have investments, not income. His taxable income is probably just social security (I am guessing), but his wealth is large and probably in tax-deferred accounts (not counted as taxable income until you draw some out and sometimes not even then as in the case of a Roth).

Anonymous said...

Property Taxes for Senior Citizens

Paul Womack's property taxes and Zepora Roberts property taxes were posted a few months ago on this blog.

Zepora pays -- are you ready for this? -- $300 per year in property taxes!

In DeKalb County, it is not enough to be a senior citizen to have your property taxes lowered. Senior citizens also must meet an income test. Just FYI ... the salary paid to BOE members exceeds the income cap for property tax reduction.

Paul Womack has bragged about his success as a business person. Zepora Roberts had a long and apparently successful work history before retiring. Both are likely receiving Social Security for years and years of work. They each may be receiving a retirement pension from where they worked.

It is unlikely that either Womack or Roberts legally meets the requirement for a reduction in property taxes. I call for the DeKalb Tax Commissioner to investigate Womack and Roberts for tax fraud.

Roberts (thankfully, recently voted off the BOE)and Womack have happily spent billions of dollars of our tax dollars and contributed very little in return -- financial or otherwise.