Real culprits behind Bibb schools financial woes hiding under the Gold Dome

April 28, 2013 

The Bibb County Board of Education is struggling -- not with how to improve education in the county, but how to pay for basic educational needs. The eight members of the board have been vilified and pilloried. They’ve been called wasteful and tax-a-holics.

The board has to shoulder its share of the blame -- mostly for not taking some of the recommended steps to avoid the cliff they now face , such as closing up to 12 elementary schools and leveling class sizes to save $3 million to $4 million. Additional staff reductions through attrition would have saved, according to the strategic plan, $15 million to $20 million. However, the board is, by far, not the main group residents should be angry with.

Ire should be directed at elected representatives in the Georgia General Assembly. That elected body has been anti public education for a decade, stripping school districts of funds to balance the state’s books to the tune of more than $8 billion with more cuts to come.

Districts all over the state have been forced to raise taxes, lay off teachers and implement furloughs. Georgia teachers have been taking furloughs since 2009 and there were large scale layoffs in 2010.

The General Assembly has come up with cockamamie mandates but little money to execute those requirements. Most residents don’t understand how little control boards have over money. School systems don’t decide teacher salaries, the state does.

However, lawmakers put on a real show when they vote teachers a raise, while at the same time increasing their benefits cost. They don’t mention that local systems are responsible for funding those additional benefits.

Those benefits will cost the Bibb system almost $3.5 million next year. Couple that with the drop in the tax digest and another $2.1 million that should have gone to the district will never arrive. But the body blow for next year’s budget is the $14.7 million in state austerity reductions.

That’s the real story behind how we arrived at the point where we might have to lay off as many as 97 teachers, administrators and staff. There is no solace taken in the fact that Bibb teachers are not the first to face layoffs. Thousands have been let go -- not because of their lack of teaching skill or failure of their students on standardized tests -- but from lack of money.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia had funding issues during the economic downturn, but Georgia started cutting its public school budget years before the downturn hit, even as enrollment increased.

As we go through the painful process of reducing the system’s workforce, don’t just pile blame on the school board. Look to the people who sit under the Gold Dome for the real culprits.

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