School board mum on possible negative bond fallout
by John Pierson
November 03, 2013 12:19 AM | 1623 views | 13 13 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Marietta City School Board is responsible for ensuring school system operations are efficient, financially and legally sound, and focused on the best interest of Marietta’s children. Recently, board members sent three letters to the MDJ in support of the Franklin Road bond proposal that will take 20 years to pay off.

I believe we would have been better served if the writers had shared the board’s vision for the system 20 years from now, how to pay for it and what getting there means to the system we know and love.

We know where we are. Our superintendent, staff, and teachers have masterfully created a great system in spite of many challenges. Making the entire structure a charter school system, the resulting schools of choice and the nationally recognized Marietta Center for Advanced Academics (MCAA) were terrific ideas impeccably executed. The MCS 2012 charter system renewal application highlights a vision for academic, culture, and workforce excellence. Here, parental involvement and valuing education create a culture of excellence. But what does that vision mean moving forward and how does the bond make that happen?

We have the numbers — the 2012 Tax Assessment for the 11 apartment complexes, plus the one townhome and condominium complex, brought in $785,583 of total 2012 local school tax revenues. The system spends $5,454 in local taxes for each student but that represents only 56 percent of the total cost per student. The other 44 percent, received primarily from the State, disappears with the exodus of 1,100 students who live on Franklin Road.

We are told shifting where Franklin Road students live is in their best interest, the system’s overall academic performance will improve, and $6 million per year of local taxes is saved. The total savings is closer to $750,000 after State dollars and property taxes are forfeited. The proposed land redevelopment is publicized as returning three times the current tax revenues with no increase in students since the area will now be all businesses.

But we have not heard whether this one-time potential decrease of over 10 percent of MCS students could result in the closing of one or more elementary schools which might then cause painful redistricting and teachers to lose their jobs. And since MCS receives additional state and federal funds for the Franklin Road students, will the current charter system education initiatives be negatively impacted as those dollars stop coming? As the student census shrinks, might citizens expect property tax reductions?

With the Franklin Road bond, the City has an economic development purpose in mind. All of that is fine for the City. I know City leadership has wrestled with solutions to Franklin Road crime for years. The Mayor and Council are acting on a strategic vision of economic development. The School Board is acting on hope and has communicated only the positive things they think will happen without discussing the possible negative repercussions.

I consider myself a strong supporter of our City schools although I have also questioned the Board’s strategic financial decisions. We are still paying for the high school debt through SPLOST and the recent auditorium bond. Now the Mayor has offered future higher tax assessments for the right to leverage the pending school system’s 1.187 millage reduction even though many of the city’s previous redevelopment initiatives have produced poor results. The School Board’s hands will be tied, being left with only SPLOST or forced to be the entity asking for a new millage increase to fund its vision.

So is the Board’s vision to reduce the number of low performers while also increasing the revenues from properties that produce no students? It is a strategy that I am not sure solves the challenges the charter system renewal is addressing, particularly since many similar low-income areas exist and there is no evidence that a large number of Franklin Road residents will relocate out of the city. However, if indeed a longer-term decrease in students does occur, might loosing these students imperil near-term funding initiatives such as teacher performance pay?

What innovations learned from our initial charter experience should be expanded? We know that the MCAA approach works so shouldn’t our vision be that every MCS school experiences that same success? Is it worth allowing the City to co-opt the pending MCS 1.187-mils decrease when those dollars are needed to fund the technologies and laboratories that support future academic goals and the to-be-announced vision?

I believe the Board should be clear about the possible downsides, as well as the benefits, of this bond we will be paying for long after the current students are graduated. As it is, the Board is hoping that losing more than 10% of MCS students will stabilize the other 90% and the system will suffer no unforeseen consequences. I urge you to vote no for the bond.

John Pierson has lived in Marietta since 1998, has a daughter at the MCAA and two more who will be attending West Side Elementary next year.
Comments
(13)
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High Flyer
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November 03, 2013
I agree with you in that the Marietta School Board has done a great job of contributing to the success of the school system. However, come on, the success of MCAA is due in large part to the fact that entrance is limited to the top 25% academic performers. Also, as I recall, the Franklin Road bond isn't the board's vision, but the mayors. Let's get the facts straight.
John Pierson
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November 04, 2013
My statement was the MCAA approach -- meaning hands-on learning focused on how the kids learn. That is the purpose of the charter system.

There are ~360 kids at MCAA that come from every school in the system. Franklin Road is the Mayor's vision -- my point was what is the vision of the school board.

Nancy Feals
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November 03, 2013
Let me get this straight, Your child is choiced into MCAA? Why not Lockheed Elementary? Surly the rigor there is the same as MCAA?

Why did you buy a home in the West Side district and not in the Park Street zone? Could it be because of West Side's excellent reputation and academic scores?

This is probably the worst letter I have read in recent weeks.

By the way, business taxes also is a large part of the funding for school districts.
John Pierson
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November 04, 2013
The CHOICE stuff in the MCS is about parents deciding what they want for their children. Similar to my CHOICE to live near the Square. Take a look at the MCS budget and you will see how the revenues and expenditures are defined. Remember these have to balance or the reserve must be used. If revenues exceed expenditures they can cut taxes or add to the reserve.

Don Yoplait
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November 03, 2013
MCAA's approach is a ACADEMIC REQUIREMENT approach! Students must meet an academic requirement in order to attend. If franklin Road kids were zoned there, like they are at Park Street and Lockheed Elementary , the performance would drop drastically.

Why don't you CHOICE your kids into Park Street?? Hmmmm. Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth!
John Pierson
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November 04, 2013
There are kids from all of the MCS elementary schools at MCAA by CHOICE.

Note that I also did not choice my kids to any of the other elementary schools I was not in the district for. But if I lived in the Park Street or Lockheed Districts I would still want them to go to MCAA.

Marty Hellner
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November 03, 2013
The statement below is incorrect, Mr. Pierson.

and $6 million per year of local taxes is saved. The total savings is closer to $750,000 after State dollars and property taxes are forfeited.

The $6 million dollar figure is the HOLE the district is in due to the miniscule amount of tax dollars brought in from Franklin Road! It only pertains to LOCAL MONEY, not state or federal money. Geez, do your homework or don't waste our time.
John Pierson
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November 04, 2013
$6 million is not the HOLE the district is in, it is what the Board Chair stated would be saved. Multiply the Board Chair's $5454 times the number of students impacted (1,100) and you get ~$6 Million.

You are right it is only local dollars -- the other 44% is from the state and feds. Thanks for highlighting that again.
anonymous
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November 03, 2013
Maybe the district should re-zone Franklin Road kids to MCAA. Think it will still be nationally recognized? Don't think so.
John Pierson
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November 04, 2013
There are kids from Franklin Road at MCAA.
Kole Gray
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November 03, 2013
Please don't come to West Side. Go somewhere else.

West Side needs parents smarter than you, that can see the big picture.
Well Said
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November 03, 2013
Excellent. The board did not address the inevitable loss of jobs when 1,000 students leave the system.

I wonder if anyone else, like the teachers who support the bond, has thought about this? Or perhaps they feel that they won't be the ones to go.

I voted no in advance voting. I agree something needs to be done, but there is a better way; the city just needs to take some time, think a bit more progressively, and then present a fully outline plan instead of what has been put forward ("I we buy it, developers will come.").
Ben Paulson
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November 03, 2013
Who is talking 1000's of students?? Love the way the NO voters continue to put out mis information!

It's called desperation.
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