It is our goal to inform our constituents on the implications of some actions regarding funding to our schools.
The residents of Dawson County are presently voting on referendums that, if passed, will provide the elderly with opportunities for exemption from school taxes. From the beginning, we want to make it perfectly clear that it is not our intent to offend in any way those who fall in this age category. The elderly population in our county has been some of the school system’s most ardent supporters through the years. They have worked tirelessly on committees and with organizations that address all types of issues including literacy, mentoring, post-secondary scholarship, poverty assistance and others. But, we do want to make sure that all are aware of the funding challenges that we are presently experiencing.
The referendum items that include exempting a segment of our residents will result in an additional loss of funds for our children unless we raise property taxes for others. We in no way want our elderly population to lose their homes or properties due to property taxes, however individuals who have limited income have been provided an exemption in a previous referendum.
We realize that many in this group no longer have children or grandchildren in our schools, but we do want you to consider that all age groups benefit from our children having a quality education. In past generations, the investment in education has been shared. In the future, if this referendum passes, we will have to consider raising taxes, and the burden will shift more heavily to those who are younger in age.
People are astounded, as our budget is presented, when we discuss Local Fair Share. Local Fair Share mandates that “affluent” counties, as determined by ranking the counties based on property values, provide funding for other counties deemed less prosperous.
Therefore, the state does not provide us the first five mils of our Dawson County property taxes and redistributes the money.
When a taxpayer receives their property tax bill, it is obvious that school taxes exceed that of the county, but we do not get the benefit of 5 mils of those taxes.
Ironically, almost 50 percent of our students must eat free or reduced lunch meals due to increasing rates of poverty in our county, yet our land values are considered the 11th highest in Georgia.
Further, the seemingly affluent Gwinnett County School System qualified and received funds from LFS in fiscal year 2010, while $6,477,289 of Dawson County tax dollars will never reach our students during this school year.
Additionally, over the past eight years, the state has initiated funding cuts that are called Austerity Cuts (or Amended Formula Adjustments). These cuts began in a time of prosperity and continue in our present day economy.
Our funding cut (of earned state monies) to the fiscal year 2011 budget is $2,566,114 for Dawson County Schools with speculation being that additional cuts could be forthcoming in the middle of this school year.
The state has also raised the percentage of contribution for health insurance for payment by employees and the school system.
Lastly, the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds will conclude this year, so we enter a perilous crossroads in terms of providing a quality education for the children. In an effort to meet the decreases in funding, we have cut positions, reduced expenditures, reduced the number of days our employees work, and reduced salaries and benefits including the supplemental retirement plan for employees.
Presently, the State of Georgia is providing only 35 percent of funding for the Dawson County School System.
Our state allocation in no way approaches the constitutional mandate that reads: “The provision of a public education of the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the state. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided by taxation.” Ga Const. Art VIII, Para I.
When the state fails to live up to this constitutional requirement, then local property taxes (and taxpayers) are required to make up the vast majority of the remaining funding void.
One of the first things that a business looking to locate/relocate researches about a community is the quality of education that their employees’ children will receive. Therefore, education is integral in the positive growth of a community.
Studies show that there is less crime in communities that have literacy rates as well. Many of our Dawson County businesses employ those educated in Dawson County, so the quality of those services are dependent on their educational attainment.
In closing, Lyndon Johnson was quoted as saying: “Once we considered education a public expense; we know now that it is a public investment.”
It is our hope that we will always consider the education of our children to be a worthy investment. The one thing that we know for certain is the importance of equipping the next generation with an education that allows them the opportunity to solve the ever-increasing and complex problems that our generations will leave behind.
Keith Porter is the superintendent of Dawson County schools. He can be reached at (706) 265-3246.