by Candy Waylock / Appen Newspapers
May 18, 2009
The issue of restoring Milton County resonates far beyond the city governments, judicial systems and assets that must be considered.
A lingering question, and one that affects the 90,000 students in the Fulton County School System, is how financially sound would a Milton County School System be? And more critically, what would the Fulton County School System look like after North Fulton revenues are removed from its coffers?
Fulton School Board member Ashley Widener says a smaller school system would benefit both North and South Fulton and better meet the needs of each.
"Families live in Johns Creek, Milton, Alpharetta for our schools, [and] they value their child's education and demand excellence," said Widener, who represents Johns Creek. "Splitting the county and the school system allows for smaller governments. This will benefit both north and south county. Each school system will be able to respond to the wants and needs of its stakeholders. Right now we have a one-size-fits-all system."
Widener pointed to the success of Milton and Johns Creek, which both broke away from Fulton County and are now thriving.
The Fulton County School System is reviewing the findings of a report that looked at the fiscal viability of a Milton County School System – one that would encompass that area of Fulton County north of the city of Atlanta, which includes Sandy Springs, Roswell, Milton, Alpharetta and Johns Creek.
Fulton Schools would revert to those areas south of the city of Atlanta, including College Park, East Point, Chattahoochee Hills and Hapeville.
Using statistics from 2007, the researchers at University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government and Georgia State's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies concluded what many had already suspected – the Milton School System will be among the wealthiest districts in the state.
The study found that just over 75 percent of local tax revenues for the Fulton County School System is generated in North Fulton. However, the vast majority of funding for special programs, such as Title 1 and federal aid for the nutrition program, are directed to South Fulton.
While Fulton County will lose the North Fulton revenues if Milton County were to form, nearly all of the special funding would remain in place to offset some of the loss.
According to the study, the amount of funding per student would catapult Milton to 16th in the state out of 180 school systems, with an average $9,500 per student based on revenue. Today, the Fulton School System is 28th among all systems.
Based on the 2008 SAT scores, the regular high schools in a Milton School System would have an average SAT score of 1647 - nearly 200 points higher than the state average of 1453.
That would make Milton far and away the top performing school system academically in the state by far.
The study also found the proposed Milton County School System will draw 65 percent of the students enrolled in the Fulton. Based on 2007 numbers, the Milton system would have 52,500 students; a smaller Fulton just over 28,000.
That would mean Fulton Schools would lose its status as the fourth-largest school system, dropping down to 12th behind Forsyth, Henry and Cherokee counties. Milton, on the other hand, would take over the fourth spot, behind only Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb school systems.
Researchers maintain state funding for each school system will be relatively even, despite the enrollment gap. As a wealthier district, Milton would be a donor system and have to send up to 5 mils to the state to be redistributed to less wealthy districts through the equalization formula. Fulton would become a recipient of state equalization funds.
In addition, researchers said while Fulton will have the majority of economically disadvantaged students — thus qualifying for federal funding — Milton will have the lion's share of students enrolled in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). It would also qualify for some federal assistance.
The question of how to split assets would be an issue, although most of the assets are fixed facilities and therefore impossible to move. The report did show the majority of properties owned by Fulton Schools are in South Fulton, including the administrative center.
With land values in North Fulton at nearly four times the cost of land in the south, the parcels located in Milton (135 total) are valued at $276.6 million, compared to the 160 parcels located in South Fulton worth $126.6 million.
One other finding of the viability study assessed the certified teaching staff, noting "there is little, if any, difference in the aggregate levels of training and experience of the teachers in the two areas of interest [a proposed Milton School System and a proposed Fulton School System].
"The issue of restoring Milton County is now before the General Assembly and is being championed by North Fulton legislators who occupy some of the top positions in the legislature. The final decision, most likely, would be a statewide referendum to allow Fulton County's division.
If there were a Milton School System
Per student spending: $9,500
State rank spending: 16th
Scholastic rank: 1647 SAT average,
No. 1 in stateS ystem population: Fourth largest
Land value: $276.6M