The Jackson Herald
February 9, 2000
homestead needs more thought
It appears as though a
plan to have 100 percent school tax exemptions for those over
age 75 has been put on hold. While some of our more senior readers
may be disappointed, the proposal needs further work before it
Although Rep. Scott Tolbert's plan is designed to help senior
citizens on a "fixed income," the impact is to again
shift the property tax burden onto a narrower group of people.
Somewhere, the continuing process of granting property tax breaks
to special interests has to stop. Just the complexity of property
taxation makes it an unfair tax, but that is magnified by a long
list of exemptions and exceptions that lower taxes for some,
but in the process raise taxes for others.
Tolbert's proposal, for example, would be a 100 percent homestead
exemption for those over age 75 with no income cap qualifications.
That means that even a wealthy retired couple over the age of
75 and living in a $250,000 house would be exempt from school
That simply isn't fair to younger property owners who live in
a $100,000 house, but who because of their age don't qualify
for the exemption. In fact, Rep. Tolbert's plan would increase
taxes for everyone under the age of 75 to make up for the shortfall.
We believe the problem could best be addressed by increasing
the school tax homestead exemption to $20,000 from the current
$10,000 and to raise the income qualifying cap from $18,000 per
household to $30,000 per household.
Age may bring certain privileges in life, but it should not exempt
those able to pay school taxes from doing so.
The Jackson Herald
February 9, 2000
on governor's education bill
Watching the state of the union address last week, I was struck
with how much of a power grab it was. Here in Georgia, we are
faced with a power grab as well.
Our most excellent governor has put forth an education bill for
the legislature to pass. I say 'pass' instead of 'consider' because
this governor seems to view the representatives which we send
to the legislature as a ruber stamp to whatever law he desires
to push through, just like last year when he rammed through the
legislation which stripped much power away from both the state
DOT commissioner and the individual county governments regarding
Mister Barnes is at it again, but this time means to get control
of you though your children. How could this be? Surely, his goals
are to be applauded, right? I mean, the school system is in need
of an overhaul, in that we can all agree.
The question is, how should that happen. The way Barnes would
do it is to take charge of the school system away from the constitutionally-elected
officials you voted into office. Why should this surprise anyone?
That is the how a liberal operates. He believes in central planning
as the answer to all problems for this invests the power in him.
Central planning, don't you just love that phase? The old Soviets
did too. Remember what a beautiful utopia they created, and,
the governor would have you enjoy kind of existence.
This takeover of the schools is not good, not for your children,
not for the school systems that your tax money supports, and
is blatantly unconstitutional. HB. 1187 transfers to appointees
of the governor the powers and duties of the elected superintendent
and local boards of education. This is effected by the creation
of a shadow type government setup in the form of two new entities
directly under the authority of the governor. The first is the
Education Coordination Council (E.C.) and the Office of Education
Accountability (SEA). Both will be populated by the governor's
appointees and will answer to him. This bill also provides for
coercion in the form of withholding of funds because of a noncompliance
of the governor's rules. This destroys local initiative, and,
is a slap in the face of every voter who has bothered to vote
to seat a school board to serve them locally, especially parents.
Another way that he disregards parents is with his plans to put
comprehensive medical care clinics in each school. Even though
parents are legally held responsible for the well being of their
children, with this plan the state school nurse can provide health
care such as birth control, which the parent does not want for
What is at stake here is whether we are to have a government
that respects the rights of its citizens and respect the state
constitution. Or, shall we just get use to an empirical governorship.
It is true that something needs to be done to upgrade education
in this state, but there are better ways of doing this than putting
all the power and decisions in the governor's chair. Let's depend
on the people to make their own decisions. It's an old tradition
in this country (the founders of the country, Jefferson, Washington
and all the others put their faith in the people) which has worked
well in the past. I believe you will find this is a concept that
can still work. Call your legislators to let them know what you
think about this bill. It is to important to ignore. It sets
the course of this state for a long long time.
February 9, 2000
bill bottom line is $$$
The governor's controversial education reform package is slated
to go to the floor of the House this week for what looks to be
a contentious showdown. It will likely move out of the House,
but faces a tough test in the Senate.
But the bill's success or failure won't ride on the issue of
teacher tenure or the proposed school councils. While both have
gotten a lot of attention, that outcry is just a surface debate.
There's no doubt that a majority of citizens in Georgia favor
doing away with tenure and they also support efforts to get more
parent input into individual school decision-making.
While the tenure controversy has gotten most of the media spotlight,
the real issue that will make or brake the governor's plan will
be the bottom line dollars. Local school leaders across the state
are deathly afraid of the bill's new funding formulas and other
potentially expensive mandates. These school board members and
superintendents form a powerful lobby under the Gold Dome. Few
legislators want to vote for a bill that could force every school
system in their district to dramatically raise property taxes.
The fallout of such a vote might fall on local school boards,
but because of the high profile of the governor's bill, that
fallout would also land on every legislator who voted for it.
So for the governor's bill to get final legislative approval,
he will likely have to fix some of the funding issues that local
school leaders are worried about. For example, the governor wants
to mandate lower pupil-teacher ratios in the lower grades. It's
a noble idea and has a lot of parent support. But here's the
problem: To meet the governor's goal, many schools would have
to build additional classrooms. If a system couldn't do that,
then it could get an exemption, but it would have to put an additional
certified teacher in a classroom if the class had over 20 students.
The school could not use a parapro to fill that slot, a common
practice being done in many schools.
So a school would be faced with one of two expensive choices
to meet the governor's mandate: 1.) Build additional classrooms
and add more teachers for them, or 2) Put up to 40 kids in one
classroom, fire all parapros and add a second certified teacher
to the classroom.
But nobody would be happy with 40 kids in one classroom and adding
new classrooms would be an expensive undertaking. The better
alternative would be to do what is already being done in many
schools - have a classroom of 20-25 with a certified teacher
and a parapro.
In addition to those concerns, local school leaders are also
worried about how state funds would be allocated under the governor's
legislation. Different types of programs in schools get different
funding based on state formulas. When it comes to earning state
money, not every child is equal. Children with disabilities,
for example, earn more money for a school than a regular program
student. How those new formulas will work is of keen interest
to every school administrator.
Most school leaders across the state do have the best interest
of the children as a priority. But the larger reality is that
for the most part, school curriculums and programs are driven
by funding. In order to keep local property taxes low, administrators
seek to maximize state and federal funding by configuring their
programs around these formulas. In an ideal world, the programs
would be created first, then the funding would go into those.
That doesn't happen, however. Programs are created and shaped
to fit the funding.
So for all the good aspects of the governor's education package
- the abolition of tenure, the increased accountability and the
additional parent input - the final decision will come down to
And like a lot of school leaders already do, the governor may
have to shape his education funding not around the ideal, but
rather around the reality of the situation.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.