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Education a hot issue at 'Eggs'

The eggs Saturday morning weren’t the only items scrambled up as state legislators conveyed the plight of the tossed to and fro budget as it pertained to the education of Georgia’s students.

A majority of the crowd’s questions at the annual Eggs ‘N Issues event revolved around the current and future status of learning at public schools.

The state’s current $2 billion budgetary valley and projected $3 billion shortfall in 2010 has put a serious crunch on local education.

The Screven County school board will listen to hearings from some tenured educators this month as those teachers try to preserve their jobs during the administration’s reduction in force of 29 and a half positions.

Some teachers destined not to be retained for the 2009-2010 school year have vowed they will not fight the release.

The board opted for the reduction in force to shave off $2 million instead of raising taxes. To meet the $2 million in expenses, a 4 mill increase would be needed. In August, the school board agreed to a hike of 3 mills to handle a decrease in student enrollment, a reduction in state funds, and a lack of funding for programs.”

Under the current PeachState budget, $8.5 billion goes toward funding kindergarten through 12th grade at schools across Georgia. That $8.5 billion is 45 percent of the state’s budget, said State Rep. Jon Burns, who was joined on the Eggs ‘N Issues panel by State Sen. J.B. Powell at the event at the county extension office.

The state provides 2.3 percent of its budget to board of regents who oversee Georgia’s college and university system.

“I think higher education is accepting and taking their cuts too,” Burns said. “We have hamstrung our local school systems.”

Burns said the state needs a “common-sense approach” to remedy the problems of education funding. He told those in attendance, which included 27 high school students taught by Burton Kemp Jr., that a resolution in House Constitutional Convention, may help make the situation more “fair to everyone in the state.”

But Burns tried to stay optimistic during these times of recession.

“Maybe good things will come out of this shortfall,” Burns said.

Powell said a limit must be placed on state cuts. The state senator explained it in a private business sense.

“Consultants come in and cut budgets and keep cutting and cutting until someone says something, then they stop and put money back in,” Powell said. “The biggest problem in Georgia is we don’t have the money to put back.”

Powell said it is like a chess game with subtractions are made to one part of the state budget. It triggers an effect.

“It is like a chess game,” he said. “When you move a pawn, you have to know the next need.”

Education is important.

“We made a commitment when Roy Barnes was governor for better funding for education,” said Powell, commenting that some school systems need improvements.

“You are lucky,” Powell told the attendees, including the SCHS students. “A lot of schools are not like ScrevenCounty. We need to target schools. Kids should feel safe in church and in school.”

Too many cuts can diminish students’ chances of receiving a proper education.

“We’ve got to have an educated workforce,” Powell said. “When the economy comes back we have to these children ready.

“Cuts are necessary, but you can cut too much,” he said. “We have to invest in our future. One day we are going to turn the nuclear codes over to somebody and we need to think about that. We can’t just keep cutting, cutting and cutting.”

Powell said the elimination of certain school programs would be detremential. Physical education, he said, should not be taken out of schools as it has been done in RichmondCounty. The state senator said obesity in children must be fought.

Education also lowers the percentage of young people in prison.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, Powell said, recommended that dual enrollment be eliminated from the new budget. Dual enrollment provides high school students a chance to take college-level courses off the high school campus during their senior year.

“He wants to cut it out,” Powell said of Perdue. “If we cut out the dual enrollment, the diploma rate will go down. If that program isn’t there, we will have students drop out of school.”

In District 23, which Powell represents, the teen pregnancy rate is higher than the graduation rate.

“I am not an advocate of abortion, but the teen pregnancy rate is out of hand,” he said.

The state senator said he has been against school vouchers except for cases of special needs children vouchers because access to other school locations was imperative.

“I’ve voted against it every time,” said Powell of vouchers that would allow students a chance to enroll in schools outside their current districts. “If you take 10 percent of the students out of schools, you still will have the necessity of services like janitorial, bus routes and electricity. It doesn’t save money.”

Harry Sheppard said as a former board member for OgeecheeTechnicalCollege that he remembers funding that was designated for the technical college. OTC, however, sometimes would not need all of the funding and would spend the excess “on things they don’t need,” Sheppard said.
“It was a ‘use it or lose it,’” said Sheppard, president of the Bank of Newington.

Powell said the introduction of “zero-based budgeting” would help control some of that spending.

Screven County Schools Superintendent Whit Myers said initially the money generated from the Georgia Lottery would go toward the funding of pre-kindergarten, the HOPE Scholarship, and technology education in schools. But, with the growth and popularity of pre-k and HOPE, the technology part died about seven years ago, Myers said.

“I have not heard of any changes on HOPE,” Powell said.

Burns: “With HOPE, we are the envy of other states.”

The legislature will make a push to ensure that non-residents of Georgia receive HOPE, Burns said.