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Perdue speaks out against education cuts
Comments give local officials hope
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Local college leaders were heartened on Thursday by Gov. Sonny Perdue’s pledge to protect the state’s public colleges from sweeping cuts that would force thousands of layoffs and steep tuition hikes.

Perdue said Thursday that his administration would “not dismantle a world-class university system we spent over two decades to build up.”

Speaking at a state Capitol news conference, the Republican governor blasted legislators for engaging in “scare tactics and fear mongering.”

At Gainesville State College, administrators were buoyed by Perdue’s support, said Marya Leatherwood, vice president of academic affairs.

“I’m absolutely delighted that the governor has come out so strongly in support of education in the state,” said Leatherwood. “We understand it’s very difficult times for our state and very difficult times for our nation in this economic situation. We also hope we can find a way not to limit our students who are going to be our economic future here in terms of earning power.”

The college stands to lose about $3.3 million in funding, which could result in 28 full-time vacant faculty slots. As many as 6,000 students would be affected by the move, which would eliminate 252 course offerings. Also, the college would eliminate 50 percent of its student workers, leaving only federal work-study slots open to qualifying students.

Members of the community have banded together to save the campus’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, which serves students, faculty, staff and members who donate to the school’s foundation. One of the facility’s instructors reportedly began a petition and distributed it among pool users, according to Claire Dunn, a frequent swimmer at the pool and teacher a Spout Springs Elementary School.

Since Perdue’s first round of cuts, the college already was forced to look for ways to trim spending more than $2 million.

“We don’t have a lot of excess, so trying to find this additional money means we have to look at reducing our faculty and staff,” Leatherwood said. “That transfers directly into limiting our student enrollment because we have less (course) sections and that would mean, unfortunately, less revenue. It gets to be a downward spiral after a while.”

Administrators were considering expanding four-year degree programs when they were called along with the system’s 34 other public universities to make more an additional $300 million in budget cuts.

“This additional cut was just such a shock to us,” Leatherwood said. But Perdue’s words gave her a reason to hope the cuts would not be as widespread as projected. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” she said.

North Georgia College & State University proposed eliminating 20 percent of its course offerings and some graduate level programs to meet its additional call for $4.2 million in cuts. In effect, the university would lose 39 faculty positions in the move that would affect about 900 students.

“The government’s comments are encouraging to us,” said Kate Maine, director of communications for North Georgia. “We are hopeful that the cuts are not as drastic as first explored. However, we know that legislators still have a challenging road ahead to balance the state’s budget.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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