February 24, 2014

A viable option

Dalton Public Schools might be able to ease its budget gap by transferring up to $500,000 of $700,000 in earned interest from a $3.7 million fund established by the city in 2000. That money was originally intended to build a public community theater at Dalton Middle School. The project ended before groundbreaking because it became too expensive and impractical, said Theresa Perry, the school system’s chief financial officer, recently.

Though the project has never been pursued, the school system kept the money and has watched it grow by $700,000 in interest over 14 years.

Board members may be hesitant to use that fund to cover their forecasted $7.6 million shortfall for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1 of this year, but we believe it is a very viable option and endorse this course of action. We understand board members would not want the community to feel they were taking advantage of money given to the school system for another purpose, but taking some of the accrued interest would leave the principal intact, and it could still be used in the future for a big project.

If using the interest helps get the school system through the budget gap expected for the next fiscal year and gives board members time to develop a bigger picture plan as they study the needs of our middle school and high school populations and facilities, then it will be money well spent. There is no denying that if we have to expand the footprint of our schools to accommodate student population growth, taxes will have to go up.

It would be best to sell that increase with a real and viable long-term plan and not a one-shot spending project as we have seen during the past few years.

As we said Sunday, Dalton residents don’t mind paying money to maintain a quality school system. People aren’t automatically opposed to paying their taxes. But they get very irritated when they believe their money is being wasted on something that could wait until times are better.

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