The job cuts announced last week by the Jackson County School System are a sobering reminder of just how difficult these economic times are. Not since the 1930s have local governments faced the kind of cutbacks now being done.
Although businesses wax and wane with the economy, most governments have only increased in size.
In Jackson County over the last decade, the growth in government has outpaced the overall growth in population. Double-digit growth in government spending was common as the money flowed during the boom.
So it’s a major cultural shock for government — especially school systems — to make cuts in the wake of the economic bust. Nobody in government administration has ever had to do that before. Government employment has always been considered 100 percent safe.
No longer. The biggest cost in government is personnel and there’s no way to make serious cuts to government spending without cuts in the cost of employees.
For the Jackson County School System, the need to make some major cuts stems from a combination of several problems.
State funding of public schools has long been a mess. For an example of what’s wrong with Georgia government, you only need to look at how it funds its schools. The state has never fully funded its education formula, creating a huge amount of instability in the system.
Making that worse was the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which put onerous and expensive mandates in place. Although it was done with good intentions, NCLB is a mess. Much of it is simply nonsense — expensive nonsense.
But the county school system also brought some of the current financial problems on itself. It undertook a major building program over the last decade, sometimes overspending on facilities more from political considerations than academic needs. The overhead of operating all these new facilities is enormous.
It also undertook new programs to raise the quality of its academics. The system has been largely successful in that effort — it’s now among the top tier of school systems in the state.
But getting there has not been cheap. Some of those efforts, such as the new report card system, weren’t mandated or necessary. And teachers in the system complain that it uses too many consultants to create useless seminars and training programs. All of that costs money.
The combination of all these factors has left the school system with extremely thin reserves; the likelihood of additional state funding cutbacks later in 2009; and the real possibility local tax funds could also drop this year if the digest is flat.
Faced with such a stark funding landscape, the school system had no choice but to make some major cuts in expenses. It cannot spend what it doesn’t have.
But for an institutional culture that has never faced these kinds of financial pressures, it’s a painful process.
Actually he has the right to. According Georgia's Sunshine laws the salaries of public employees are considered to be open records. Hell, your taxes help pay for the schools, don't you want to know where the money goes? If you care to know more about what records are open and what information is private, go to gapress.org/sunshinelaws.html.