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Posted: April 25, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Addressing school cut concers

Over the past seven years while serving on the Newton BOE I like to think I have listened to my community. The challenges have changed over the last seven years. When I began serving in 2003, there were 13,700 students in our system; today there are over 19,400 students in our system. I appreciate all of the professionals who on a daily basis teach, feed, protect, clean up after and transport our children.

I would like to address some of the points made in The Covington News editorial and letters to the editor.
First, the budget has not been adopted; the list sent out last Friday consisted of proposed cuts. Because of the length of the legislative session this year we do not know what state funds will be available for the next budget cycle.

Having worked at the state capitol in years past, I can never remember a session going past late March. On Friday, April 16, Dr. Steve Whatley met with all administrators to inform them of proposed cuts. It was their collective opinion the list should be sent out that day so personnel who would be affected by the cuts could take advantage of various job fairs being held around the metro area. The meeting ended between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., thus the timing of the e-mail. If we had waited until the state legislature came up with our budget figures, some of them could have missed opportunities to find other jobs.

The budget process is an open process. Every year during the budget process meeting times are posted in advance and meetings are open. At the time I read the editorial in the paper the BOE had no formal request for the budget document.

School administrators are responsible for the delivery of state mandated curriculum and the safety and welfare of the students and staff of their schools. They must test and report to the state BOE the progress of every child. In addition, they are at their schools when the doors open and stay after the students leave. Just this spring I have personally seen one administrator at least two times a week at soccer and baseball games until 9:30 p.m.; there is no overtime - it is all part of the job. Just to give you an idea of the level of responsibility our administrators face, Newton High has 2,136 students and 243 on staff, Eastside High has 1,357 students and 154 on staff and Alcovy High has 1,583 students and 184 staff.

The superintendent of our system is responsible for 2,500 employees and a budget of $145 million plus (depending on funding); he must deliver a safe learning environment to over 19,000 students. What CEO of a $140 million dollar corporation makes less than $200,000 a year? Dr. Steve Whatley has earned bachelor's and master's degrees as well as a doctorate in education. He has worked in our system over 20 years. I can only say, thank you, Steve, for your years of service and dedication.

We are fortunate to welcome Dr. Mathews to our system. He, too, is a seasoned educator with many years of service. He was on the shortlist for candidates for superintendent in Baton Rouge, La. However, after seeing our community and interviewing in Newton, he took himself off their list to be considered for our position. I hope you will join me in welcoming him to our community in this most difficult time. Looking at other systems our size you will find the following superintendent's salaries: Fayette with 22,000 students pays $214,000, Douglas with 24,000 students pays $211,000, Rockdale with 15,700 students pays $197,000 and Carroll with 15,000 students pays $192,000. I hope these figures give you some perspective on salaries.

In the last two years the Newton School System has been awarded over $5 million in grants. As grants become available, our staff looks at each one and carefully considers the requirements. As far as the comment on the BOE central office building, it was there when I started my time on the board. The old BOE office was totally inadequate to meet the administrative needs of a school system of our size. The current was constructed to meet our growing needs for the next 50 years. As a mother of three sons who participated in middle school sports, I know the importance of sports for our young people. Around 20 percent of our middle school students participate in school sport activities. I am open to any constructive suggestions to keep our teams playing.

I cannot express fully my disappointment in our state leaders. The Newton County School System has suffered $21 million in state funding cuts since 2006. Parents, grandparents, students and school personnel should be appalled that the lack of funding in education was not addressed this legislative session. With over 90 percent of Georgia's children in public schools, our voices are not being heard - maybe we should speak louder.

I will be leaving the BOE this January. I have done my best to serve this community and appreciate the support the community has given me during my term. I appreciate the hard work the folks who work in every aspect of our system. In parting I would like to remind you, your vote is your voice, as elections take place this fall use your vote to be heard!

Cathy Dobbs is the District 3 representative and the chairperson of the Newton County Board of Education.


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