Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Should SPLOST be used for any part of annual operating expense of the Hall County School System?

     I oppose any taxation that is not essential and I oppose all taxes that are not fairly distributed. In my view, consumption taxes are among the fairest there are and special purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST) are consumption taxes. On the other hand, property taxes, especially when they support services for property owners and non-property owners alike, are among the least fair. Of course, even worse is a graduated income tax system, but that is for another day.
     From data available online, of about $342 million in educational SPLOST I, II, & III funds over 15 years for Hall County, about 21% went to upkeep/upgrades for existing schools, including technology and other equipment and furnishings, as well as improvements to extracurricular facilities. That is about $1.4 million per year.
     It was reported at the June 5 Hall County School board that the operating funds for the school board were as much as $25 million, around 8%, less than they were four years ago with a student population 700 more today than then.  The entire SPLOST collection, at about $23 million per year, would be needed to replace this variance each year.
     This means no funds to pay off existing debt, construct permanent classroom space, including new school construction and associated land acquisition, build school additions, complete renovations and repairs to related items such as library books, furniture roofs, HVAC systems, floors and security systems. While finding ways to pay for essential school operations cannot be ignored, neither can the purposes for which the electorate approved the SPLOST.
     With only two-third of those voting approving the SPLOST IV, future SPLOSTs that including operating expenses as an intended purpose are unlikely, regardless of my support. This brings me to the crux of the issue, I absolutely favor identifying and removing wasteful spending in the school system, if any. I also favor determining efficiencies that may reduce costs as well. But after that, we have an obligation to give our children the education they need for life and work. If we could come up with a better method of funding for K through 12 education I would wholeheartedly approve of a state constitutional amendment to make the change. For instance, lottery money contributes to Pre-K now and that certainly makes a differences.

Which of the 17 student pathways would you support putting in Hall County School and why?

The pathways, as they currently stand, are Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; A/V Technology and Communications; Architecture and Construction; Business, Management and Administration; Education and Training; Finance; Government and Public Administration; Health Science; Hospitality and Tourism; Human Services; Information Technology; Manufacturing; Marketing, Sales and Service; Public Safety and Security; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; Transportation, Distribution and Logistics; and Energy . I favor supporting all 17 pathways in the Hall County School system.  At their latest meeting, the superintendent of Hall County Schools confirmed the system is moving in the direction of accommodating all pathways.
In point of fact, all 17 require a good deal of knowledge in common, especially in reading, thinking and mathematics skills. These classes in these common items need to be the first focus of our schools in supporting all pathways. Also, we surely don’t want to lock students into a specific pathway they later regret. Where pathways can be grouped into common knowledge areas, like statistics that will be needed in some group of the 17, but not necessarily all, we should provide students the choice of a group path to follow. As the student learns more, they will be better able to choose a narrower path to follow. 
This is similar to the pattern followed by the public colleges in our district. Lanier Technical College offers almost 40 different academic programs, from accounting to welding and joining technology. Lanier Tech’s web site states that all programs begin with the general education core courses that make up their Technical Specialist (General Studies) certificate.  Gainesville State College (GSC) offers almost 900 separate degrees, including those in the popular areas of Biological Sciences; Business Administration; Computer Science; Criminal Justice; Early Childhood Education; Health Profession Fields; Pre-Nursing; and Psychology.  At GSC all of their programs have a core component of English and mathematics, plus several other general education courses pathways.  When they merge with NGCSU there will be little change.
Realistically, getting to the point of full pathway support will not happen overnight for the school system. First, significant help will be needed to properly counsel the students in the system.  At least initially, we would not be able to afford to provide all the classes in all the pathway areas at every school. We may need to designate schools that emphasize certain pathways.  As students in the Hall County system narrow their focus to one of the pathways, they may also be ready for taking classes in a particular pathway at one of the local colleges as part of their secondary education. I would envision the school system continuing  to work closely with the public colleges in Hall County and beyond to both develop the material for coursework and to advise students. This includes joint ventures such as the STEM program now being developed at North Hall High School. But to get to this point, we will need not only a Superintendent and a staff well versed in career education, but also Board of Education members with the background and knowledge of workforce  education.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Everybody Votes

Board of Education Post 3 is basically West Hall County. However, the other morning, while talking to people in North Hall, I had a voter question why I was there since they couldn't vote for me. I tried to explain that Board of Education members in Hall County were elected by everybody in the county, not just the district they represent. The lady then explained to me that I was wrong about that and there was only one at large board member. Well, I accepted that, as I didn't have anything to cite other than what I was told by the elections office. So, I decided to go find out. What I discovered was this:

In 1958 a constitutional amendment provided for the Hall County Board of education be increased to nine members on January 1, 1961 and be elected rather than appointed by the Grand Jury. It also provided for the termination of all board members appointed by the Grand Jury on December 31, 1960. (Ga. L. 1958, Vol. 1, p. 517). It appears that at the time all board members were elected at large. In 1960 a constitutional amendment provided the “The Board of Education of Hall County shall be composed of five members, four of whom shall be elected from their respective districts, as provided for hereinafter, only by the voters of each respective district, and the fifth member shall be elected from the county-at-large by the voters of the entire county.” (Ga. L. 1960, Vol. 1, p. 1199). It further specified district boundaries by collections of militia districts and provided that the board would elect a chairman for a four year term. In 1964 a proposed constitutional amendment provided for staggering of the election of the board members (Ga. L. 1964, Vol. 1, p. 845). By 1972 apparently the voters thought it was time for a change, so a constitutional amendment was passed that said the board would appoint the school superintendent who would serve at the pleasure of the board. But, it also had all the board members elected by the entire school district and not just the ones they came from (HR 585, Ga L. 1972, pp. 1379-1381). That is why everybody in the County, except folks in the Gainesville School District, votes for them today.

There have been a few changes to that set up, but primarily to make sure terms were staggered (Ga. L. 1976, Vol. 1, p. 1910), define boundary changes for the internal districts (Ga. L. 1983, Vol. 2, p. 4553), affirm the constitutional amendments as local law (Ga. L. 1986 Vol. 2, p. 4330), and rearranged the districts based on the census (Ga. L. 1992 Vol. 2, p. 4563), (HB 1730, 2002), and (SB 397, 2012). However, none of these specifically changed the “everybody votes” rule and the next time I am asked what I am doing in North Hall, East Hall, or South Hall asking for votes, I can explain why.