Of apples, oranges, and a proposal to put schools in the city’s budget

Oneonta city manager Ed Lowe released the following statement yesterday:“I have made a proposal to put the city school system into the city’s annual budget for the mayor and council’s consideration. If found agreeable, it could be on the council’s meeting agenda as early as April 13.”

If approved by the council, the initiative would represent a step forward in the sputtering negotiations between the city and the school system over school funding by the city.

In the ongoing debate between the two entities, questions have been raised as to the prevailing level of understanding of school financing in general, and the extent of the school system’s need in particular.

The Blount Countian was criticized last week for comparing apples and oranges in citing certain financial statistics. The city of Oneonta’s contribution to the city school system was estimated at almost $1.2 million annually based on city figures. Four other comparable systems had totals of $600,000, $853,652, $1.5 million, and $1.6 million annually.

There IS a problem with that comparison.

Oneonta’s figures include nearly $1 million from property taxes, which are contributed separately from Oneonta’s appropriations to the school. The other systems to which the Oneonta school system was compared included only direct city support – no property taxes included. So, it was comparing apples and oranges, and in effect exaggerated Oneonta’s support of its school system. Critics had a valid point.

A caveat: the newspaper had covered the school system’s presentation of its case extensively. The city’s case in support of schools had not been presented until last week. It was entitled to a hearing, although the comparison was unintentionally flawed. Apples and oranges charts

The charts at right represent two different ways of statistically comparing the five school systems with reasonable accuracy. Let’s call it the apples and oranges charts – except this time, one chart is all apples, and the other is all oranges.

City support including % of sales tax + alcohol tax + direct appropriations + direct expenses paid + service on applicable debt

City Population # Students Total city support
Attalla 6474 1823 $600,000*
Brewton 5408 1107 $1.5 million*
Geneva 4800 1260 $853,652*
Haleyville 4137 1690 $1.6 million*
Oneonta 6567 1477 $335,841**

Total local support including all of the above sources
plus property taxes, tag taxes, and county sales taxes***

City Total local tax revenue
Attalla $1,887,692
Brewton $3,367,641
Geneva $1,974,633
Haleyville $3,038,680
Oneonta $1,804,232

Note: According to Alabama State Department of Education figures presented by former Oneonta Superintendent Scott Coefield in 2012, Oneonta ranked 98th among 135 school systems statewide and “dead last” (Coefield’s words) among all city systems in property tax revenues. Sources:

*Oneonta City Schools
**City of Oneonta (corrected to include alcohol tax)
***Alabama State Department of Education