1. The first portion of Code Ann. 32-622 (B) (1) (Ga. L. 1964, pp. 3, 20) refers to county divisions for school administrative purposes, and the proviso, rather than what precedes it, fixes the basis for independent school systems in determining their responsibility for local funds.
While three appeals were filed by the separate appellants, all three are the same, and these appellants comprise the State school officials, and the local school officials of Fulton and DeKalb Counties, all named as defendants in this mandamus action brought by the school officials of the City of Atlanta, an independent school system, in their official capacities and as citizens and taxpayers. The petitioners seek to prevent fife state officials in the administration of the Minimum Foundation Program of Education Act (Ga. L. 1964, pp. 3, 49; Code Ann. 32-601 to 32-657) from giving effect to a proviso therein which has the effect of reducing the allotment of state school funds to all municipal or independent school systems, including the Atlanta system, from the amounts which such systems could receive if the proviso were to be ignored or held unconstitutional. The petition, as amended, in count 1, seeks to have the proviso declared unconstitutional for a number of reasons; and, in count 2, to have the court make the state officials ignore it in determining the school funds for the Atlanta school system. Inasmuch as, under the law, an increased allotment of state school funds for Atlanta would come at the expense of the county school systems of DeKalb and Fulton, these local school officials were named also as defendants. Under the minimum foundation program, local school systems--area, independent and county--are required to furnish, according to a formula, local funds to support the program of education. The proviso mentioned above requires all independent school systems in a county to be calculated on a percentage greater than 100% which, in effect, causes all such systems to produce more local funds and thereby reduces the amount of state funds the system would receive. The Atlanta system seeks to be considered without reference to the proviso applying to independent school systems because it is in more than one county, and this proviso which requires an increased financial ability to pay, that is, increased local funds with decreased state participation, is not applicable because it is, in the language of the statute, not "located within a county" but rather is located in two counties, and that the state officials be required to calculate its financial ability to pay by the proviso applying to all local units of administration without applying the special proviso required of independent school systems within a county. Demurrers were filed, and after a hearing, the court refused to rule on the constitutional attack but overruled the demurrers to count 2 and ordered the state officials to calculate the Atlanta system's financial ability to pay according to the Act without giving effect to the proviso applying to independent school systems. The appeal is from this final judgment overruling the general demurrers to count 2 and granting the mandamus absolute.
1. Notwithstanding the voluminous amended petition and the demurrers thereto, there is but one simple question presented for decision. That question is: Should appellees have the Atlanta school system's responsibility for local funds (Code Ann. 32-622 (B) (1); Ga. L. 1964, pp. 3, 20) determined as they contend by the language first appearing in Code Ann. 32-622 (B) (1), which is as follows: "In those counties of the State which have more than one school system within the county, the amount of local funds to be put up by the several local units of administration within the county in support of the cost of providing a minimum foundation program of education in the public schools of the local unit of administration shall be determined by multiplying the per cent that the equalized adjusted school property tax digest of the respective local unit of administration is of the total equalized adjusted school property tax digest of all local units of administration in the county by the amount of local funds to be raised by or within the county in support of the cost of providing a minimum foundation program of education in the public schools of the county" without reference to another proviso applying to independent school systems within a county? Under Code Ann. 32-606 (Ga. L. 1964, pp. 3, 8) the several county, independent, and area public school systems of this state, as now or hereafter established, pursuant to provisions of law, shall be local units of school administration for the purpose of the minimum foundation program. This would include all units, including independent systems, but the legislature, which created the majority of these separate systems by statute, by the proviso, specifically and explicitly, lifted these independent systems out of its meaning and applied a special rule to them as contained in this proviso. That proviso is as follows: "Provided, however, that the equalized adjusted school property tax digest of each independent school system located within a county shall be calculated on the basis of 133 1/3 per cent of the county equalized adjusted school property tax digest of all property located within the territory of the independent school system." (Emphasis supplied.) We have emphasized the words "independent school system" to direct attention to the vital difference in these words and the words "local units of administration" found in the first quoted portion of the law. It is plain that the proviso was intended to apply to independent school systems, hence to the Atlanta system. This proviso is law and can not be ignored as the trial judge did in his order. The school authorities correctly used this proviso as a basis for determining the amount of local money the Atlanta school system must raise.
There can be no question but that the money derived from taxing the property located in DeKalb County, added to taxes from the property located in Fulton County constitutes the total local funds supporting the Atlanta School System. And it is this source of revenue that the state considers in making its supplement. Admittedly, the 1964 Act provides complicated procedures for fixing the amounts of local responsibility, but it leaves no doubt but that as to each local school system consideration is given the available means within the district to raise revenue. As to the Atlanta system, all those portions of both DeKalb and Fulton county situated within that school system constitute its economic ability to provide funds. The rule is no different in an independent school system located entirely within a single county, for there likewise the property within it is the basis of its revenue.
One feature of the law stands out and that is that the state seeks to help all schools but requires that they do their best first, and then this is supplemented by the state to secure the minimum. Imperfect though it might be, it is still commendable, and must not be shackled by legalistic theories and hair splitting that ignores the express and implied intent of the law which controls construction. Bd. of Tax Assessors of Decatur County v. Catledge, 173 Ga. 656 (160 SE 909)
; Carroll v. Ragsdale, 192 Ga. 118
, 120 (15 SE2d 210
). Independent school systems constitute one class and uniformity requires that they be treated alike. Code Ann. 2-401 (Const. of 1945); Stewart v. Anderson, 140 Ga. 31 (78 SE 457)
; Murphy v. West, 205 Ga. 116 (52 SE2d 600)
; Barge v. Camp, 209 Ga. 38 (70 SE2d 360)
; City of AtLanta v. Gower, 216 Ga. 368 (116 SE2d 738)
The court erred in overruling all the demurrers, and the final judgment is a nullity.
Judgment reversed. All the Justices concur.