A study commissioned by a Sandy Springs group advocating for a city school district has found creating one would be financially feasible.
The study found Sandy Springs’ taxes would generate sufficient funding to operate the 11 public schools within the city’s borders, which are currently operated by the Fulton County School District. Projected revenues for a separate Sandy Springs school district would be approximately $163.3 million. Operating expenses were estimated to be $65.2 million.
The study, which is dated to April but just released, was authored by Kelly McCutchen, a senior fellow and former president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and Georgia Tech professor Christine P. Ries. Ries authored a similar study for Dunwoody in 2013. To read the study, click here.
“We find that the proposal is not only feasible, but generates a surplus of net revenue of nearly $100 million per year,” the study said. “We expect that a smaller community school district with more intensive community and parent oversight will result in better educational outcomes. Moreover, the financial analysis indicates that the community could potentially increase the expenditure on schooling per student of nearly 60%.”
The city of Sandy Springs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fulton County School System spokesperson Brian Noyes said in a written statement that school is focusing on reopening for the next year and did not comment directly on the study.
“Fulton County has great schools in Sandy Springs. Our students are excelling,” Noyes said. “We have fantastic and talented teachers and staff. We are going to stay focused on opening schools on August 12th and continuing to provide the best learning experience possible for our schools.”
Although the study found the school system is financially possible, major roadblocks stand in the way, including the state constitution prohibiting any new school districts. Regardless of the study’s findings, creating a new district would require a state constitutional amendment.
Betty Klein, a member of the advocacy group Citizens for Local Area School Systems, said the group has been talking to legislators statewide about supporting an amendment.
The group started after the Klein and others successfully advocated for a new North Springs Charter High School. They felt the school board was not familiar enough with Sandy Springs’ schools because the district is too large. CLASS also sees separating from the Fulton County School System as the next step after Sandy Springs’ cityhood, according to its website.
Although City Councilmember Jody Reichel has been leading the effort and creation of CLASS, the city itself has not officially signed onto the idea.
“If the citizens of Sandy Springs determine they want their own school district, all options, including an amendment to the constitution, would need to be explored,” Reichel said.
While Sandy Springs would have an excess of money to operate, the Fulton County School District would lose more money than it costs it to run Sandy Springs schools, the study found. Fulton would lose $140.9 million in local funding, but would shed $52.2 million in operating costs for Sandy Springs schools, according to the study.
A greater share of Fulton’s funding would come from federal and state sources, the study said.
The calculations use existing tax data and don’t count on a tax increase. Sources for the data included the Georgia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, the Fulton County Board of Education, the Fulton County Tax Commissioner and the city of Sandy Springs Tax Digest, the study said.
The study also expects Fulton would be able to reorganize “for very substantial savings in central district costs.”
The study also used the city’s landmark “public-private partnership” form of government, which outsourced most departments to private contractors, as an example of how a local district could improve managing a school system. However, the city recently changed that model and now directly employees the majority of staff.
“Like the city management philosophy, a smaller and streamlined management of Sandy Springs schools might become more responsive to the needs of residents, businesses, parents, teachers, and students,” the study said.