What is the difference between deferring funding and eliminating funding? This week, the school board eliminated funding for the Academic Success Center. There has already been a lot written and said about these cuts. So, I will leave that topic for others to dissect.
However, the school board also deferred funding for some SPLOST projects with the same vote. Specifically, the board deferred funding for repairs to the auditorium at Jordan, construction of a system wide gym at Fort Middle School, security equipment, technology and FF&E. Since the SPLOST is expected to yield $40 million less than projected and the proposed Fine Arts Academy now appears that it will cost $15 million more than budgeted, it is difficult to fathom how deferring the funding for these projects is practically different from eliminating their funding altogether.
By voting to defer funding rather than eliminate funding for these projects, the board did leave itself the option to direct SPLOST money to them at a later date. But, if the financial projections that have been shared publicly are correct, there is not much hope of the funding for these projects being more available later than it is today.
So again, when the financial forecast is considered, what is the difference between deferring funding for these projects and outright eliminating funding for the Academic Success Center?
Even though the board has left itself the option to fund these projects at some later date, if there is no money, the projects will not be funded. And all reports suggest that there will be no SPLOST money available for these projects now or in the future.
Some will suggest that deferring these projects sets the stage for the board to ask voters to approve a new SPLOST as soon as the current tax expires. Others will point to the shortfall as an example of the volatility of sales tax revenue generally and reason to reform the city's property tax structure to provide more stable revenue for our public schools. Regardless of what opinion you hold, the bottom line is that several projects designed to improve our local school system likely will not get done.
There is no question that balancing the budget and providing all the facilities that we want for our students is a difficult task. I do not envy the members of the board in this task.
But, if the funding for these projects is truly unavailable, instead of voting to defer them in full knowledge that the money will likely never come, the board should vote to eliminate the funding outright and allow the public a full view of their capital funding crisis.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.