When it comes to education, bigger is not better. Simply put, the mega county school systems in the Atlanta area are too big to be effective. This is why Sandy Springs needs its own school system and I am supporting a school feasibility study.
It’s hard to comprehend the size of Fulton County Schools. FCS serves an area that is 70 miles from north to south; oversees 105 schools and more than 10,000 employees; has nearly 100,000 students; and has an annual budget of $1.7 billion. It’s an enormous school district.
This enormity became apparent when I worked with a group of parents called Citizens for a New North Springs. We successfully lobbied for a new facility to replace our local high school —the oldest in Fulton County. It was noticeable to many, besides the two school board members representing Sandy Springs, that the board was unfamiliar with North Springs High School. Understandably, it is a challenge for seven board members to have in-depth knowledge of 105 schools.
This begged the question: Shouldn’t all those governing have a comprehensive knowledge of all schools they are making decisions about? Would a local Board of Education for Sandy Springs be able to better understand the unique needs of our 10,000 students at our 11 public schools? We believe all evidence points to “yes.”
A new group has formed — Citizens for Local Area School Systems —and is raising funds to commission a study to look at the feasibility of a Sandy Springs school system. We know that the creation of the city of Sandy Springs resulted in improved services for citizens, greater accessibility to elected leaders, more accountability, increased community input for desired outcomes, and better fiscal responsibility.
Local control of school systems follows the same result. It’s no surprise that six of the top 10 ranked Georgia public school systems are city school systems. Dozens of studies show smaller, local control means better student outcomes, regardless of the racial makeup and economic status of students.
Better outcomes for students are key. Smaller school systems are able to be more flexible in how they approach education. A smaller school district knows the strengths and needs of the local schools, students and community. For example, Sandy Springs is home to more businesses than any municipality in the area. Our city is rich in business, civic commitment, volunteers and activism. We could better leverage this strength for students.
Currently, there is a limited amount of counselors and internship/vocational training coordinators. Many parents feel earlier counseling and more coordinated internship experiences could better serve our kids on college applications or career success after high school.
Beyond student outcome, property owners in Sandy Springs should take notice. Fifty percent or more of your property tax bill goes to schools. Many residents, myself included, saw a noticeable tax increase this year. Last year, Sandy Springs paid $135 million in local school taxes — or 25 percent of the FCS local tax budget. Yet we have 10 percent of the students and schools in the county. We could keep our tax money here in Sandy Springs for our students.
Founding Mayor Eva Galambos said of her fight to create the city of Sandy Springs: “The thing that really brought about the change was when we started paying huge income taxes and we realized how much of our income was being redistributed. When you see how the money is wasted, you get a different philosophy.”
The city of Dunwoody commissioned an economic feasibility study that showed a city school system would result in a $30 million dollar annual surplus. It follows that Sandy Springs should see similar results. This could mean better use of tax money, breaks for senior citizens, and increased compensation for teachers.
In the next state legislative session there will be many people working for locally controlled, smaller school systems. The first step for the citizens of Sandy Springs is to fund this feasibility study to see if we can support our own school system. We can then bring it to our mayor and City Council to ask for further action.
For more information about the study effort, see gofundme.com/local-area-school-systems.
Cheryl Barlow is a member of Citizens for a New North Springs and Citizens for Local Area School Systems.