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School boards meeting in Savannah talk about budget woes, policy
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Area school board members may be attending an education conference, but the main topics for discussion revolve around taxes, revenue and budgets.

Members of the Hall County and Jefferson City boards of education traveled to Savannah this week for the annual Georgia School Boards Association summer conference.

At the conference, representatives from local school boards meet to discuss and adopt positions on various policy issues.

"The positions that are adopted at the conference determine how the school boards association — and for the most part the state superintendent of schools — operates for the upcoming year," said John Jackson, Jefferson school superintendent.

"During the conference, we get an update about what has taken place during the previous (state) legislative session and what is anticipated to come up during the next session."

Among other things, the group received updates from state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox about a new statewide math and science curriculum. In the wake of federal No Child Left Behind legislation, conference attendees also spent time discussing the importance of ensuring that every child is successful, rather than focusing on averages of standardized test scores.

Jackson said that over the course of the four-day conference, there was a lot of discussion about tax exemptions.

"Every time a tax exemption is signed into law, it’s pulling money out of the state’s revenue," he said. "Whenever the legislature introduces bills that create an exemption for this group or that group, one needs to keep an eye on the impact it will have on the overall budget and what will happen when that amount of money is no longer being brought in the form of taxes.

"By virtue of the current recession, state revenue isn’t coming in like it was two or three years ago. Tack on to that the various tax exemptions and you have the potential of having a real problem on your hands because there aren’t sufficient funds to operate state agencies."

Less state revenue equals less state funding for local governments, including school systems. In the throes of an economic downturn, Georgia schools systems have had to figure out how to do more with less money due to midyear budget cuts. While trying to maintain quality classroom instruction, school boards have cut back on field trips, laid off employees and put off construction projects to save money.

The Gainesville City Schools System opted not to spend funds traveling to Savannah for the conference. The system also is considering adopting $100 to $200 monthly staff pay cuts in order to balance its budget.

Jefferson officials have amended traditional operating practices in order to offset budget shortfalls. Instead of attending the first day of the conference, which is mostly dedicated to school board member training, the Jefferson group opted to holds its own training session during its retreat in March, saving a day’s worth of travel costs.