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School officials applaud move to halt funding cuts

POSTED: March 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.

School leaders for the Gainesville and Hall County school systems praised a plan by Georgia House Republicans to bring a halt to school funding cuts, which have totaled $1.4 billion over six years.

"This cost has been transferred to local taxpayers via property taxes," said Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools.

"I applaud the spirit of their effort and feel confident the Senate will work with them to make this a reality for Georgia’s children."

Steven Ballowe, superintendent of Gainesville city schools, said, "With the state sitting on a $1.5 billion surplus, I am ecstatic to see some relief for local taxpayers. The elimination of austerity cuts is long overdue."

Ballowe had said previously that he was optimistic "that the House and Senate may buck the governor’s intent to extend the austerity cuts."

The cuts began in fiscal year 2003 as the state grappled with a budget shortfall.

The state determined the amount of funding for each school system, based on full-time enrollment, and then applied what it termed as an "austerity cut."

Schofield said that since 2003, Hall County schools has absorbed some $21 million in cuts.

"The net effect has been either cutting services to boys and girls or raising additional local revenue," he said.

The amount of cuts during the same time frame in Gainesville city schools was $4.5 million, according to the state Department of Education.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, is pushing for another $141 million in cuts to formula funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1, even with the $1.5 billion reserve.

Just how that — or the lack of austerity cuts — would trickle down to schools largely remains to be seen for many school systems, such as Gainesville and Hall County.

Budget writers are just now beginning to look at estimated expenses and revenues for fiscal 2008-09, which begins July 1. Ballowe said in a City Board of Education meeting he believed the austerity halt would "have a significant impact on us."

In addition to state funding, the systems take in federal funding and revenue from local property taxes.

The GOP vow on Thursday stirred the political pot under the Gold Dome, as Republican lawmakers had supported the cuts and now are saying they plan to find the cash for education elsewhere in the $22 billion fiscal year 2009 budget.

Democrats asked what’s taken so long.

"It’s long overdue," Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, said. "Finally, they get the picture that it’s unfair to local taxpayers and the school systems across the state. We’re glad the House Republicans finally see the light."

Rep. DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, spoke out on the issue at a Jan. 23 media symposium sponsored by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

"I understand (cuts) in a recession, but you can’t justify this today," he said. "The cuts need to be restored."

Perdue’s spokesman, Bert Brantley, has said in a statement that figures used to back up claims that the governor has cut the education budget are misleading.

"Education has always been, and remains, Gov. Perdue’s top priority," the statement said. "Since 2004, he has added $1.7 billion to the QBE (Quality Basic Education) formula and increased per-pupil spending from $3,372 to $4,148. Those figures are the highest in the state’s history."

The Associated Press
contributed to this story.



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