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OPINION PAGE - FEBRUARY 9, 2000 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
February 9, 2000

Increasing 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 becomes law.
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 taxes.
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.


Letter
The Jackson Herald
February 9, 2000

Comments on governor's education bill
Dear Editor:
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 transportation.
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 their child.
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.
Sincerely,
Otis White



Column
By Mike Buffington
February 9, 2000

Education 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 dollars.
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.


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