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Reported by Dan Whisenhunt at Reporter Newspapers
Local boards of education will be cutting costs and making do during the next budget year in an effort to deal with stagnant property values and increased expenses.
All three systems in the Reporter Newspapers area – Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Public Schools and Fulton County Schools – will begin the Fiscal Year 2013 on July 1. Only one, Fulton County Schools, doesn’t plan significant cuts and can balance its $810 million budget with $20 million from its reserves with no tax increases.
Officials with each school system said lower property tax collections and increased health care costs for employees are making it hard for local school boards to balance budgets.
“It’s the economy for the most part,” Atlanta schools spokesman Keith Bromery said. “The economy has not recovered to the point where the state can fully fund education … you find school districts have to cut back in relation to what they’re getting in terms of funding from the state.”
DeKalb County Schools is considering a $760 million budget but faces a $73 million budget shortfall. The school system has nothing in its reserves and the board is being asked to consider a 2-mill increase in property taxes, meaning a $200,000 home would see taxes increase by $160 a year.
Atlanta plans a $605.2 million budget but will need to fix a $47 million budget gap. The school board is considering cutting between 285 and 475 jobs across all departments.
So how did Fulton County start the year in a better position than its neighbors? Several reasons, Fulton School officials say. District 3 Board of Education member Gail Dean said in 2010 the school board voted to cut 1,000 jobs. Also, the board recently opted not to renew the charter of Fulton Science Academy after school board members and school officials could not reach an agreement. That saved the school system $3.8 million, Dean said.
Marvin Dereef, executive director of budget services for Fulton County Schools, said the school board’s earlier actions made this year’s budget process less painful. The school plans to keep 18 percent of its operating expenses in reserves, he said.
“We made the big choices early,” Dereef said. “We saw the writing on the wall and took action significantly enough where we could weather the storm for awhile.”
DeKalb County Schools BOE members are looking for alternatives to the proposal to raise taxes, spokesman Walter Woods said. DeKalb County schools during the last few months leaped from one crisis to another. Prior to the $73 million shortfall, it faced an unanticipated $36.5 shortfall in its sales-tax funded school construction account.
The BOE found a way to move sales tax money around to cover it.
Woods said the BOE is weighing its options to deal with the latest dilemma, saying “everything is on the table.”
Woods said it’s too early to discuss whether the system will be able to replenish its reserve account.
“We have to balance the budget first and then we’ll talk about a reserve,” Woods said.
Like DeKalb, Atlanta Public Schools faced daunting challenges within the last year. The system continues to deal with the fallout from a cheating scandal that found some teachers manipulated test results to boost scores system-wide. Recently, the BOE angered many in the community with plans to close and rezone schools.
The school system in April voted to close seven schools. Bromery said “there may be some savings” as a result, but said it will mostly be a non-factor.
“It wasn’t to save money,” Bromery said of the school closures. “It was to focus more of our enrollment into a fewer number of schools. To a degree, this will be offset by the additional resources that will be placed in these schools that will see increases in enrollment.”
Bromery said there is also a planned 10 percent cut across all departments in the Atlanta Schools system, except for curriculum and instruction, which will see a 7 percent cut.
“The revenues have not kept up with spending we need to reduce that or eliminate it,” Bromery said.
U.S. News and World Report reviewed 21,776 U.S. public high schools; 77 Georgia schools made their rankings.
Of the Georgia schools ranked in 2012 for the U.S. News Best High Schools, 8 were awarded gold medals, 30 earned silver medals, and 39 received bronze medals.
To be eligible for a state ranking, a school must be awarded a national gold or silver medal.
Top Ranked GA Schools
See complete Georgia High School Rankings
Good school districts lead metro area in sales
Residential Real Estate Summit from Atlanta Business Chronicle by Joe Rauch, Contributing Writer
Date: Friday, February 3, 2012, 6:00am EST
For the hottest neighborhoods when it comes to Atlanta real estate, look no further than the places with the best schools.
Real estate agents, builders and industry analysts said homes in the highest demand in 2011 were in the metro area’s best school districts.
Parents are looking to take advantage of depressed prices to move into better school districts before the excess supply of homes in these areas dries up.
“It used to be call white flight, but now I’d call it educational flight,” said Dan Forsman, CEO of Prudential Georgia Realty. “[Parents] want to put their kids in the best school districts. It’s all about the schools and the kids.”
Real estate agents said North Fulton, East Cobb and South Forsyth were all areas with relatively heavy demand right now, in large part because of the strength of their school systems.
And the data appears to back up the anecdotal view.
Open market sales, excluding foreclosures, were highest in Fulton County in 2011, with 5,324. Atlanta’s core county was followed by neighboring Cobb and Gwinnett counties.
Forsyth County totaled 1,514 open market sales in 2011, but had the second-highest average sales price of any of the 11 metro counties surveyed by Bridge Interactive Group LLC.
In contrast, Clayton County — with its school system’s well-chronicled struggles — posted the the third lowest number of sales with roughly 1,000 and lowest average sales price for homes in the metro region at roughly $66,000 last year.
Many view 2009-2011 as a reset for the broad expectations for Atlanta’s real estate market.
“This is our 1934. This is our baseline year,” said Mason Maynard, referring to the year during the Great Depression that saw a series of sweeping economic and political changes that affected the country for decades to come.
For some sellers, the calculus has swung over the last year from waiting for the market’s rebound to simply escaping the fatigue of the last few years, real estate agents said.
“People are tired of waiting at this point,” said Carrie Faletti, a Realtor with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty.
Sellers are willing to get rid of a property at this point, real estate agents said, if they can find a similar bargain when they’re hunting for the replacement home.
But one logjam she notes is that homebuyers are not moving up the price chain when they buy their next home, she said.
“It’s difficult for people to move up,” she said, noting that buyers often simply stay at the same price point, given depressed prices and buyers looking for a good deal.
One motivator for the market, Faletti said, would be corporate relocation.
There were few companies moving in 2009 and 2010, she said, creating another drain on the market of both eager sellers and buyers.
Buyers, real estate agents said, still largely exist in the king of all buyers’ markets.
Agents said buyer bidding wars are largely nonexistent outside of several key Atlanta markets, with many buyers looking to buy foreclosed homes for less than $100,000 per year.
For foreclosed homes, the story varies widely depending on the location.
And when selling foreclosed homes in in-demand neighborhoods, the banks are laying out higher prices and tougher terms.
“They’re playing a little more hardball,” said Becky Vinson, a real estate agent with Realty Associates of Atlanta.
“There’s still deals, just not as many on foreclosures and short sales.”
For now, the sales market inside the city’s core appears to be much healthier than the outlying regions.
“We’re not taking much of a hit intown,” said Ben McKenzie, Realtor with Prudential Georgia Realty, who focuses primarily on intown home sales. “It’s a beauty contest and price war right now.”
But in far-flung suburbs, foreclosure sales are still seeing plummeting prices.
In Gwinnett County, for example, once a high-flying hub of Atlanta’s suburban expansion, foreclosures in 2011 were roughly half those posted in 2010, but prices for those foreclosed homes had dropped over the last two years to roughly half their 2009 values.
One area that will lag the broader housing market’s sales, agents said, are condominiums.
The large projects — concentrated in Midtown, Buckhead and other bustling intown neighborhoods — were a high-profile symbol of the construction that took place during the mid-decade housing boom.
But agents said condo sales will likely take more time to catch single-family home sales.
“There’s a number of developments in Midtown that are looking to close out” their last few units and, McKenzie said, the sellers of those units are not as concerned with price in the current market.
Even amid the sluggish sales figures, across the metro market, new-home builders are expressing signs of cautious optimism.
Chuck Fuhr, division president for Ryland Homes of Atlanta, said he projects to build about 225 homes in 2012, up from 178 in 2010.
Fuhr said his company’s new homes are able to compete with the existing pool of homes because some buyers are determined to buy a new home — whether for warranties or improved energy efficiency — over an existing home. But, he said, builders are being selective, choosing only the most in-demand neighborhoods and lots for new projects.
“Sales are moving in the right direction, as painfully slow as it might be,” McKenzie said. “But it’s tough to project what the definition of the new normal will be.”
January 2012: Top 50 High Schools
Which metro Atlanta public high schools best prepare students for college?
Michele Cohen Marill
When high school ends with a flip of the mortarboard tassel, only one question matters: Are the graduates ready for their next step?
The answer varies greatly. About 70 percent of Georgia high school students go on to college. Last year ten students earned perfect scores on the SAT. More than a third took at least one college-level course during high school.
“More and more kids are taking the most rigorous course work we can offer them in high school, and more of them are showing they can do college work and receive college credit,” says Becky Chambers, program manager for college readiness at the Georgia Department of Education.
But too many students find that their high school didn’t prepare them to succeed in college. About one in four need learning support when they enter Georgia colleges, and a similar number drop out of college after their first year.
We decided to take a close look at how metro Atlanta high schools rate on measures of college-readiness. We used nine indicators from the latest report card compiled by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, which is for the 2009–2010 school year. Schools were ranked for each indicator, and then rankings were averaged to produce an overall ranking. The top fifty are featured here.*
Ratings often reflect differences in school populations. DeKalb School of the Arts had just 291 students; Brookwood High School in Gwinnett had 3,420. At Crim High School in Atlanta, 97 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch due to low family income; at Northview High School in Fulton, just 5 percent did. Schools with International Baccalaureate programs may not have performed as well on AP indicators, as they had relatively fewer top students participating.
But overall, the rankings show how our high schools are doing at their core mission: graduating students who can meet the challenges of higher education.
We are grateful to Terry Sloope, assistant director for research with the A.L. Burruss Institute at Kennesaw State University, for technical assistance. The mission of the Burruss Institute is to enhance the ability of governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations to make informed decisions for the public good by providing relevant data, technical resources, and skill development.
Source: GOSA Report Card, 2009–2010 (the most recent available).