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Posted: November 15, 2009 12:30 a.m.

NCSS to try different tact with legislators

Plans to send legislative priorities to parents

"Each year in the past we have had our legislators in and have made a presentation of the items the board has seen fit to adopt as priorities but this year, we’ve decided to do things a little differently," said Newton County School System Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley, with a smirk at Tuesday night’s Board of Education work session.

"Instead of bringing the legislators in we are going to have approximately 20,000 brochures printed and given to students and mailed, and those will have the legislative priorities and the contact information about how you can get in touch with your legislator regarding these priorities," Whatley continued. "They will be posted on our Web site and we will use school messenger to call the parents and say ‘please look at these priorities, they are important for your child’s education,’ as opposed to bringing someone in and making a presentation and hearing about the common plight we know we have. Let’s move on from the common plight we have and do something about the issues."

After attending Georgia School Boards Associations meetings in both the summer and fall, board members decided on the top 10 issues that most affect Newton County in policies, procedures and funding as determined through legislative action.

One of the most important to the board is tax reform, policy and impact. According to the prepared priorities "a review is needed of tax exemptions from sales and use tax, income tax and other revenue producing state taxes as well as increasing revenues through targeted areas such as alcohol, tobacco, sodas, vehicles and business services… Until such recommendations are forthcoming, and realizing that the maintenance of a sound tax structure is necessary to ensure adequate revenue generation to support and improve Georgia’s schools, the property tax should continue as the fundamental element in financing education."

"We feel that until a fair, sound tax policy is enacted by the state and they have reviewed it and decide what is necessary for operation of the state government and its local entities they not mess with us," said Whatley. "And that they leave the taxing authority and wealth support for the districts as it is. They need to be very cognizant of the actions that they take in the way of exemptions and credits that effect the revenue stream when in an economic downturn hurts all the state agencies, but more important, the services that are provided by those agencies."

The board also believes that revenue shortfalls, continuation of waivers of selected Title 20 and Title 50 laws and capital outlay are important to the system. The board supports the authorization of a legislative study to examine the governance issues in public education and opposes "any attempts to usurp the authority of local board to determine how local funds are allocated."

The appropriation of funds for education resources and textbooks is another concern since some books can run upwards of $200 and only $33.26 is provided (per weighted student FTE) for textbooks in grades one through three. Also, only $3.11 is allocated for equipment, such as copiers and instructional equipment, including computers.

Maintenance, operation and transportation funding is important to the board, especially in light of the furlough days that will effect transportation staff that the board was notified of in late Oct.

"…Now a further cut [is required] either to be taken by reducing the school year for these employees and thus reducing the student year or absorbing the cost of cuts by the local BOE by cutting elsewhere."

The board also supports waivers for acreage but opposes both the Charter Schools Commission and additions or amendments to HB 251 that will restrict local control of public schools.

"We have a great disconnection with the parents of our kids about what the legislature is doing with education," said BOE Vice-Chair Cathy Dobbs. "We are hoping that we can awaken a sleeping giant and that people can become aware of the decisions they are making about the local school systems.

"Georgia has one of the lowest tax rates of the nation and we can’t attract industry if we’re one of the lowest ranked in education," Dobbs continued. "You get what you pay for and we really need to think about how we can go about improving our educational system. I hope some leaders can step up and that we will see some real leadership come out of the gold dome this year."

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