Over the past few weeks, the big news story has been about the city school system. From the first day when it was reported that the school system was facing a major budget deficit, to the ultimate dismissal of the superintendent, every Gainesville citizen has an opinion. The school deficit issue has opened everyone's eyes.
When the news broke that the city school system was facing a massive deficit, Gainesville property taxpayers were stunned. Economic times dictated this was not the time for a massive tax increase. In fact, any property tax increase has a huge impact and harms our community in many ways.
Most notable, a property tax increase puts more stress on the individual homeowner, especially during today's economy.
Gainesville homeowners understand this. They have to balance their checkbooks, so they think government, especially the school system, should, too.
Also, high taxes hurt businesses and destroy jobs. They harm the welfare of our community. Our city is always trying to attract economic development that will increase the tax base and provide jobs for our citizens. Factors like taxes have an effect when businesses are considering our city as a possible location. This is why an ongoing goal is to reduce the cost of government.
Our chamber of commerce understands this. That is why it is on record opposing a property tax increase by the city school system.
There are only two possible outcomes to this crisis. The city school system can re-establish itself as a successful system, both educationally and fiscally, or consolidate under the Hall County school system.
If Gainesville is to remain an independent school system, it will take a unified effort between the board and the taxpayers of this community. Everyone needs to put their differences aside for the common goal of "let's save the city school system."
If this goal cannot be achieved, then it is not right to ask homeowners and businesses in the city of Gainesville to carry a tax burden that is no longer justified.
After attending most of the meetings on this issue, I can say I have great respect for the members of our board of education. I can say, on their behalf, that they didn't see this coming. As a matter of fact, Sammy Smith and Maria Calkins have just become board members.
The time for talking is over. The board has heard all of our comments. If its members have any differences with one another, it's time to put those differences aside, unite and focus on the task ahead.
The board needs our support; let's give it to them. We have elected them to do a job and we need to give them a chance to do it. They are in the midst of having to make tough choices that will determine the future of the city school system.
They understand that they have to make massive cuts or it no longer makes sense to keep Gainesville as an independent school system. Believe me the choices are going to be hard; 83 percent of the budget is spent on personnel.
In addition to massive changes and cuts, a new superintendent has to be hired. It has been said that the former superintendent was very passionate about the students and because of this test scores and graduation rates were up. It has never been said that Dr. Steven Ballowe was not passionate about kids.
But I think the credit for higher test scores and graduation rates goes to all the teachers who spend every day in the classroom with the children. We have great teachers in the Gainesville school system, and great teachers make for great students with great test scores and great graduation rates.
The new superintendent not only must be an excellent educator with a passion for the all the children, but someone who will not forget that running the school system is a multimillion-dollar-per-year business, for which a degree in education offers little training.
If that person is unable to scrutinize every tax dollar and cut expenses to keep the budget balanced, they better have the people around who can; 72 percent of the property taxes collected by the city of Gainesville goes to the city school system.
This is a critical time for the city school system. It's test day and now it's time to see if the city school system will pass the test.
Jack Waldrip is a Gainesville resident and owner of a real estate company.