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State schools chief visits Fair Street, doesn't sugarcoat budget woes

POSTED: February 3, 2009 11:23 p.m.

State school chief visits

Watch state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox speak to civic leaders, visit Fair Street International Baccalaureate school.

SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Kindergartner Dylan Dang, 5, greets state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox in Vietnamese on Tuesday at the entrance of the Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. Nine students greeted Cox, with each student speaking in a different language.

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The Gainesville Lions Club honored state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox with its highest award for her efforts to donate $1 million to state schools for the deaf and blind following her win on the television show "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?"

After Cox accepted the award Tuesday at a joint lunch meeting of the local Lions and Kiwanis clubs at the Gainesville Civic Center, she delved into the dark business of next year’s budgets.

She told the luncheon crowd that educators will have to "step out on faith" to pull school systems through the upcoming school year that could hold at least a 3 percent state budget cut to education and as much as a 9 percent budget cut to other state departments. The state is facing a revenue shortfall estimated at $2.2 billion.

Cox spoke to the faculty of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School following the luncheon and didn’t sugarcoat the outlook for the state’s education budget.

"It’s bad, folks. It really is," she said. "... The buzz at the capitol is January numbers are worse than we anticipated."

Cox said at the luncheon that although she is a Republican and has qualms with "borrowing and spending our way into prosperity," she is eager to accept the potential $1 billion Georgia public schools could receive from the pending federal economic stimulus package.

Nine children greeted Cox in nine different languages when she arrived at Fair Street for a tour. Cox said she wanted to visit Fair Street elementary to get a closer look at the International Baccalaureate program implemented on the elementary school level.

Fair Street remains one of only about 16 elementary schools in the state to have the program. Cox said the Gainesville school was one of the first in the state to implement the integrated and inquiry-based curriculum. The program aims to turn out students with the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.

"It allows us to generate that creativity that probably got us into teaching the first place," Cox said to the Fair Street faculty as she commended them on the program. "We’re really proud of what you’re doing, and we hope to spread your model around the state."

Cox said she strongly supports charter schools and charter school districts, such as the Gainesville school system, which have taken on more accountability in exchange for more flexibility in using state resources. She said she believes charter schools and districts may provide an avenue for schools to be more efficient with their resources as financial support for education dwindles.

Cox was in Gainesville to receive the Melvin Jones Fellowship from the Gainesville Lions Club for her attempt to donate $1 million she won on a Fox game show to support three state schools for the hearing or visually impaired.

Gainesville Lions Club President Jim Schwartz said club members chose to honor Cox with the club’s highest award because Lions’ primary goal is to support the blind or deaf worldwide.

"What she does in the way of education and the fact that she attempted to give that $1 million to these schools ... It’s a very worth while cause," Schwartz said.

Cox won $1 million last summer when she correctly named Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch. Cox had planned to donate the funds to schools for deaf or blind students, but a personal bankruptcy has stalled the delivery of the game show prize money to the schools.

While the Georgia Academy for the Blind, the Georgia School for the Deaf and the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf have yet to see Cox’s $1 million check clear, Schwartz said the Gainesville Lions Club honored Cox with a $1,000 donation to Lions Club International, which will fund international support for the blind and deaf.



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