By Michael Jacobs
The rebirth of Milton County could be a boon for the public schools of both the areas that would form the new county and those left behind in the rump Fulton County, Fulton Board of Education member Gail Dean told her community meeting April 21 at Spalding Drive Charter Elementary School.
Dean, who lives in Sandy Springs and represents a portion of the city’s schools, referred people at the meeting to a report released in February by Georgia State University and the University of Georgia on the financial viability of the proposed Milton County.
The new county would encompass Sandy Springs and the rest of Fulton north of Atlanta and has the support of Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos and her municipal peers. Its creation would require a voter-approved constitutional amendment. Legislation to put the issue on the 2010 ballot stalled in the General Assembly this year but could be revived next year.
One of the major effects of North Fulton’s breakaway would be the split in the county school system. The UGA-Georgia State study found that the Milton County area has 65 percent of the 80,617 students in the Fulton school system and would get 68.9 percent of the system’s revenues, based on the local tax base and targeted state and federal funding. The result, if the millage rate stayed the same, would be an increase in per-student spending of $503 to $8,906 per year.
The South Fulton schools would be left with about $1,000 less per student per year.
But Dean, who said she has a rare perspective on the issue because her district includes schools in both halves of the county, said: “If I lived in south county, I would split in a heartbeat. It makes so much sense north and south.”
She said the split would eliminate the waste of energy involved in the north-south rivalry. And while the north would get to keep more of its tax money, the south would gain total control of its schools and would still have enough students to ensure administrative efficiencies.
For an increase in the property tax rate of 1 to 1.5 mils, the south would fill the post-split funding gap, and Dean said all of the southside constituents she has asked would gladly pay that price for autonomy.
The one southsider at the meeting, David Shaginaw, agreed, noting that the lower property values in South Fulton mean an increase in the millage rate represents less money in new taxes per property owner. “I absolutely would do it.”