Monday, June 11, 2007

Taxes - School District Edition

Okay gang, this is another long one in which I tie together a number of issues that I have followed over the past few years (hopefully in a coherent fashion). My point is that the Clarke County School District spends way too much money, delivers a poor return on the community’s investment, and engages in questionable financial practices.

In 2002, the District’s portion of the property tax millage rate was 18.75 mills and its expenditures amounted to $8225 per pupil.

In 2003, those figures rose to 19.25 mills and $8741 per pupil.

In 2004, those figures rose again to 19.50 mills and $8902 per pupil. I’ve written ad nauseam on how the Board of Education blatantly violated the Georgia Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights with this particular millage rate increase. To make a (very) long story short, the Department of Revenue’s position on the matter was that its regulations, ostensibly written to implement the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, actually allowed local taxing authorities to do precisely what that law prohibited (I kid you not). Also in 2004, the Board appropriated about $150,000 to develop a plan for spending SPLOST 3 revenue. The problem was that the money for the study itself was slated to be repaid by SPLOST 3 revenue (in other words, by a tax that might not have been approved by the voters and put into effect three years down the road). Had the referendum not passed, the money for the study would have had to be cannibalized from elsewhere in the budget.

In 2005, those figures rose again to 20.0 mills, the limit imposed by the state constitution beyond which the District cannot go without voter approval of a referendum to that effect, and $9038 per pupil.

In 2006, the millage rate remained constant but expenditures rose to $9617 per pupil. A quick glance at the figures reveals that its 2006 spending ranks the District at about number 12 out of 180 school districts in the state (or at about the 93rd percentile). Of the systems that spend more that the CCSD, two appear to be urban (Atlanta and Decatur) and the remainder are rural systems that have to spread fixed administrative and capital expenditures over a much smaller student population (i.e. for about 250-1100 students). For those 2006 expenditures, we got dropout rates of 30.6% at Cedar Shoals and 40.4% at Clarke Central, and 8 schools (out of 19, or 42.1%) that did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals. I do not have test scores at hand, but my recollection is that they were below the state average pretty much across the board, especially in the upper grades. Also in 2006, the Board of announced plans to hold its SPLOST 3 referendum as a special election in the month of September. To do so would entail an unnecessary expense, estimated at $40,438, to open and staff all 24 of the county’s precincts and program voting machines. This would be for a ballot with only one question, to be held on an election date guaranteed to result in a low turn-out. Faced with a public outcry, the Board eventually opted to hold its referendum in November concurrent with other elections.

For 2007, the millage rate remains constant. The District’s tentative budget for 2007-2008 comes to approximately $117.5 million (plus another $11.8 million in reserve and contingency funds). This means that per pupil spending will in all likelihood surpass $10,000.

And . . . there was the bit about the District paying big bucks to join the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia. Given the expenditures detailed above, I found such a move unconscionable. Eventually, the District pulled out of the Consortium because per pupil dues were scheduled to quadruple for 2008, bringing the cost for remaining in the Consortium to almost $100,000.

And . . . consider that the various SPLOST bond resolutions specified that property taxes would be levied to repay the bonds if sales tax revenues were insufficient to pay the debt incurred by them. Admittedly, this situation was/is unlikely to occur. Nonetheless, even the remote possibility that property taxes may have been raised in order to cover any shortfalls in the sales taxes pledged to pay off bond debt service should cause the taxpayers grave concern.

And . . . according to the office of the Athens-Clarke County Tax Assessor’s office the value of the county’s property tax digest has risen by an average of 9-10% annually in recent years, thereby generating substantially more property tax revenue irrespective of millage rate increases.

The per pupil expenditures noted above are taken from the financial reports produced annually by the Georgia Department of Education.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: