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.