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Proposed state funding changes could help Liberty County schools

Liberty County Board of Education members heard about a proposed funding formula change that might mean more money for public education in Georgia.

Liberty County School System Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese said Gov. Nathan Deal organized a commission to review the funding of public schools in the state.

It is tasked with re-evaluating existing funding and making recommendations for improvement.

“The basis of the new recommendations of the funding changes was a student-driven formula versus a teacher-driven formula,” Reese said. “What does that mean? If you look at the current funding of education here in Georgia, it is based on training and experienced teachers. The governor and commissioners are recommending that the emphasis be based upon … the number of students you actually serve.”

Georgia school systems currently are funded based in part on a number known as full-time equivalent, or FTE. FTE is based on the number of students who receive services on a particular day. This snapshot is taken twice a year and reported to the state Department of Education. The more services students receive — and the more students who receive extra services, such as special education — on that day, the higher the FTE number. However, because FTE focuses on a particular day, not all students who receive extra services are accounted for, resulting in a lower FTE number and, therefore, less funding.

Reese said that it would be beneficial to the school district to receive funding based on actual enrollment rather than FTE.

Another part of funding for Liberty County is based on years of experience and education level of professional, certified staff.

“What’s being recommended by the commission is that they take the state average, and that’s what the school district … should be funded,” Reese said. “Meaning, going forward, (funding) would be based on an average teacher’s salary.”

He added that teacher retirement and health insurance will have to be funded outside the student-based funding formula. The current funding formula does pay for teacher retirement and health insurance.

Included in the recommended formula is funding for direct and indirect costs, including the following.

Direct costs:
• Teacher salaries
• Counselors
• Art, music, physical education, foreign language
• Technology specialist
• School operations
• Instructional operations

Indirect costs:
• Social worker
• Psychologists
• Assistant principals
• School secretary
• School operations
• Facility maintenance and operation

Reese said the recommended formula also would account for media specialists, operations, staff and professional development, nursing, transportation, technology and extra funding for areas such as special education.

Other areas for funding that have not been finalized with the governor’s commission include central administrative costs and charter systems.

Reese showed a comparison between the district’s current level of funding from the state and the proposed funding revision if implemented now. The district received $52.6 million for the current fiscal year, the proposed formula would create an increase of 2 percent to $54.5 million. The state’s overall budget to local school systems would increase from $8.241 billion to $8.452 billion, an increase of 2.5 percent.

Reese said that although it looks good on paper, when austerity cuts are added to the Quality Basic Education, or QBE, funding formula the school system would receive less than what is being proposed.

Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said the austerity cuts amount to about a $1.1 million increase, or about $800,000 less than the proposed funding formula would grant.

Board member Carol Guyett asked what the formula means for charter systems. Reese answered that the commission is still reviewing charter schools. Board member Carolyn Carter-Smith talked about the possibility of not being able to hire teachers based on experience.

Lee said, “What the state is saying is that, ‘We’re no longer going to acknowledge it (teacher experience and training).’ But as a system, we can still acknowledge it and pay out of your local funds.”

Guyett mentioned that if the district is funded at the average salary of a teacher in Georgia, nearly $50,000, not at a beginning teacher’s salary, some local funds could be reallocated to other parts of the budget.

If the governor accepts the proposal of the commission, it would go before the state Legislature and possibly be implemented in the 2017-18 school year, according to Reese. In the meantime, the school district would still operate under the current funding formula. Lee thinks it’s likely that the governor will approve and said that it’s still up to the school board to make the final funding decisions.

In other business, the board approved:
• The proposed 2016 board meeting calendar, 6-1, with board member Marcus Scott opposed; and
• A revision to the Educational Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax resolution election date. The date originally was set for March, but because of an advertisement about the resolution not being placed in the Coastal Courier by the board within the proper amount of time, the date was moved to May.

Also, the board voted 5-2 against having the meetings videotaped. Verdell Jones and Scott supported the idea.

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