COLUMN: Raise the millage to give teachers a raise

Published 6:37 pm Thursday, August 27, 2020

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By Jack Bernard
Bernard is a retired corporate executive

As reported by this paper in July, the Troup County School Board met and approved school taxes for next year. They held three public hearings previously, as required by statute. They approved the millage rate to remain as it has been since 2005, 18.85 mills, although due to an increase in property values that may mean a small increase for some homeowners. Was this action reasonable, or should there have been an increase or  rollback?

I’m a numbers guy who has been in government planning and budgeting on the local and state level, as well as with corporations. A fiscal conservative, and former Chair of the Tax Committee for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, I don’t like to see our tax money wasted. So, I set out to evaluate how our schools fare in relation to others in Georgia.

Using an accepted user-friendly website, I found that the Troup County School System has average rankings in the state, a B- ranking, in the middle of the 182 Georgia city and county school districts.

Underlying source material for this site is gleaned from U.S. Department of Education data, standardized test scores, and 60 million reviews/survey responses.

Here are specifics, comparing Troup to the three best school districts in the state, Buford, Oconee, and Forsyth (note: ranking criteria were broader than just testing scores):

4SAT/ACT: Average Troup test scores on the SAT and ACT were 1110/23, which was good. However, Buford (1170/26), Forsyth (1140/24) and Oconee (1210/28) were considerably better. In other words, based on objective tests, Troup County’s students are not doing as well as top performing districts in our state.

4Percent of funds spent on direct instruction: Troup spends only 57% of its budget on direct instruction. Of the top three, Forsyth spends more (69%) on direct instruction, the others being 65% and 64%. In other words, more of Troup’s school tax money is being spent on “support services” than direct teaching.

4Dollars spent per student: Troup spends $11,049 per student, a little more than Oconee ($10,421). But less than Forsyth ($11,461), and Buford ($14,134). Expenditures per student, therefore, appear to be in line with others.

4Average teacher salary: average teacher salaries range from $62,865 in Buford to $57,257 in Oconee. Troup is significantly less at $52,376.

Note: I confirmed the above finding through a second source, which ranked Henry as the 111th best district in the state (of 192), indicating that its performance was better than 42% of the other districts in Georgia. 

So, what have we learned? The Troup County school district is solidly in the middle of Georgia school districts. Its support services overhead appears out of line with the top districts. Expenditures per student are comparable, but teacher salaries are much lower than the best districts. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average mean wage (salary) in the state of Georgia is $49,620, which includes earning of many people with less than a college education. Therefore, it is obvious that our well-educated Georgia public school teachers are relatively underpaid, including Troup’s and many other districts. If we want our children to have a better educational experience, it starts with getting top notch teachers. Pay is part of the equation.

Furthermore, I can state with 100 percent certainty that the commercial and industrial sectors pay a significant share of local property taxes in Troup and many Georgia counties. Having taken UGA Vinson Institute courses on this topic, education is a top criterion for business relocation.

To continue to attract small business and industry, Troup County must become a stronger county educationally. 

In conclusion, from the facts given above, it’s clear that future reasonable Troup County school tax increases (i.e. Millage increases) are warranted in order to continue to make progress. If teacher salaries remain low, the quality of education for students is bound to suffer.