What is the cost of a quality education?
That’s a question some have been posing as the City of East Ridge considers the idea of possibly creating its own school system.
The cost of a quality education might be $810. This is the amount of additional property tax revenue a person with a $120,000 home would have to pay every year in order for East Ridge to form its own school district and cover the $8.5 million gap between estimated operating costs and actual funding received.
The Hamilton County school system is far from perfect. Our own school board members and administration admit our schools are operating on a budget held together with duct tape and bailing wire. Currently, Signal Mountain and Red Bank are committed to doing a feasibility study on what it would take to leave the district and form a special school district to operate their own schools.
Newly-elected council persons Brian Williams and Esther Helton both publicly committed during the last election to pursuing a feasibility study here in East Ridge. Tennessee State Representative Marc Gravitt, while serving as Vice Mayor, repeatedly commented on how a feasibility study should be done as soon as a few things were cleared off the city’s plate.
While I’m sure the feasibility study will look at more things, it all comes down at the end of the day to dollars and cents, and here is what I know.
The attendance for public schools in East Ridge in 2015 – 2016 was an average of 3,213 pupils. They broke down as follows:
East Ridge High – 803, East Ridge Middle – 721, East Ridge Elementary – 964, Spring Creek Elementary – 725.
The state that year provided Hamilton County with $3,112.74 per student.
This brings the total provided by the state for East Ridge schools to $10,001,233.62
On top of that we all pay property taxes for the school system, which while higher now due to Bass Pro and other development at the time, was $4,665,154.19
This brings our total to $14,666,387.81
We also have a portion of the sales tax in East Ridge that is allocated to funding schools. For this year it totaled $1,998,192.71
This brings total funding for East Ridge students to $16,664,580.52
This $16 million total is what the city should have on which to operate if it forms a school district The funding per pupil for special school districts (aka city schools) is exactly the same as the funding for the county in which the school system resides. Of course, the property tax numbers will change with added development like Walmart, Bass Pro and Exit One. However, those changes will not swing those number very far.
So the next question is this: will $16 million be enough to provide the students of East Ridge with a quality education? The answer to that unfortunately appears to be “NO.”
The average cost per pupil of school districts around the state is about $8,000 per student. In Hamilton County our costs are a little higher, right at $9,132.35 per student.
So, if you make the case that East Ridge could run the schools on a leaner, less top-heavy system at $7,800 per student, the city school would require $25 million to operate. That figure makes our schools just $8.5 million shy of the required funds needed to run a city school.
Basically, we would have to triple our school tax rate of $1.3726. This would add $2.70 per $100 of assessed value to each person’s property tax bill. Basically, if your home was worth $120,000 your tax bill would increase by $810 per year.
To me, in the city of East Ridge this isn’t an option for most of the seniors living in our community. I’m not sure what the results of any feasibility study will be and maybe there is an option I haven’t looked at or am unaware of, but the numbers I provided are accurate on face value.
In my opinion, it seems our best option as a city may be to encourage other municipalities to ban together and join Hamilton County in its fight to be adequately funded by the state. It seems the source of Hamilton County’s problem will be the source of our problem or any other city’s problem. Unless you have a population wealthy enough to cover the gap, having municipalities leave the county behind will just make the problem worse for the kids left behind.
I eagerly look forward to the results of a feasibility study for East Ridge once it is completed. Maybe there is a solution that will provide our kids with the exceptional education they deserve at a price we can all afford.
Of course this won’t solve the problem of lack of parental involvement and the disruptive behavior this results in at school but that’s a column for another day.