LETTERS: It's time for residents to decide our own tax rate

According to the 2010 tax data from across the Atlanta metro area, RCPS has the highest school M&O millage rate in the area at 22.99 mills; this number is just slightly higher than DeKalb (22.98 mills). Other metro area school systems are held to a maximum of 20 mills by the Georgia Constitution (Article VIII. Section VI. Paragraph I.); each system is either at 20.0 mills or something less.

For the 2010 tax year the BOE opted to increase the tax rate paid by homeowners and businesses from 21.0 mills to 22.99 mills; last month they again increased the tax rate for 2011 from 22.99 to a proposed 24.5 mills. As residents, the one thing we all have to ask our BOE is, "What are the students gaining in RCPS compared to like systems for the additional millage increase?"

Last week the RCPS BOE was presented data comparing Rockdale's school system with other metro area systems. The data shows 2010 statistical data on public school systems across the metro Atlanta area; the one thing that immediately comes out is that Rockdale County has the third highest cost per student ($8,871) but only ranks sixth in revenue per acre land ($1,647.46). Compare these numbers to DeKalb; ranked second in cost per student ($9,543) and highest revenue per acre ($5,518). Obviously, it is much easier to cover a $9,543 cost-per-student when you receive $5,518 in revenue per acre.

RCPS is attempting to cover the high cost per student with a much lower revenue number. Our BOE is able to sustain this due to the exemption from the state imposed maximum M&O millage rate of 20.0 mills. In 1965 the BOE introduced a referendum that allows RCPS to levy taxes up to 30.0 mills. This referendum passed by a vote of 367 yea to 247 nay. In a county of 10,500 people, less than 6 percent of the population of the day approved this referendum. Who would have thought that so few people could have such a large impact on a community some 45 years later?

It is time that the BOE revisits this referendum; 10,500 people in 1965 are not representative of the population of Rockdale County in 2011; much less the 614 residents that voted in the special election that approved a 30.0-mill cap for our school system. It is time that residents of Rockdale County in 2011 decide for themselves whether or not our school system needs to levy taxes above the state maximum of 20.0 mills.

On Aug. 9 the Georgia 20 Coalition, along with bocwatch.org, will host a citizen forum to discuss the option of revisiting the 1965 referendum. Residents will be presented with current comparisons of RCPS with other metro county expenses and revenue. The citizen forum will be held at Epiphany Lutheran Church located at 2375 Ga. Highway 20 S.E., Conyers, GA 30013 starting at 7 p.m.

The RCPS Board of Education was officially invited to take part in this forum for the community at its regularly scheduled meeting on July 21. I urge each of you to contact these school board members to encourage them to participate. It is time for residents in 2011 to decide our own tax rate.

-- Sam Smiley