Dear Editor: As a parent of an elementary age student in the Newton County Schools, I am distressed about what is happening to education funding on both local and state levels. Last week, major budget cuts were announced locally that will affect my child and thousands of others, as well as many friends and family who serve this community as teachers in the local school system. The local cuts are due primarily to years of under funding of public education by the state where education seems to have become a decreasing priority by those who purport to lead.
I immediately contacted several Board of Education members to ask if there were other ways to make the cuts rather than eliminating jobs. I learned that saving jobs and educating our children are not as simple as, say, moving funds from School Building Construction to Human Resources. There are many laws in place designating how funds will be earned and where those funds must be spent. For instance, new schools to be built over the next five years will be paid for by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. It doesn’t matter if there is a reserve of funds collected from SPLOST, that money can only be spent on construction. Our local school system also receives many grants which pay the salaries of employees who are in charge of certain programs.
I then called our local legislators, John Douglas and Doug Holt, who are currently working on the state’s Fiscal Year ’11 budget. Their response to my concerns about cuts to public education was to blame the local school system and decisions by Board of Education members on spending priorities. What they didn’t acknowledge are the reasons many local boards are forced to make certain decisions. For instance, there might be federal grants available for school building repair, but terms of the grants require the schools to be closed and the students placed elsewhere. After weighing the options, our board members decided it would not pursue a lengthy grant application to repair older schools when new elementary schools are on tap to be opened in the next couple of years. These local decisions are complicated by many factors and not as cut and dry as they might appear.
We have reached a point in time when we are not going forward but appear to be going backward when it comes to public education funding. Should we contact our local and state officials and voice our concerns? Yes. Do I think the state legislators and governor are going to overhaul the Department of Education and increase funding for education? No. So where does this leave us? I don’t know, but what I do know is that we as citizens must take a stand for what is important, not what a political party stands for or what our family and friends might tell us. We need to voice these concerns to anyone who will listen and even those who do not want to listen.
A well-rounded education for all Newton County students is important to me. I wholeheartedly believe that basic education is key in the development of our next generation. If a child can read, he/she will be able to accomplish anything set before him/her. I ask that you join me in expressing your concerns to our elected officials.
The budget process is taking place both on the state and local level. The next few days are crucial in the decision-making process. Please take a stand for your beliefs and let our legislators know that you want your taxpayer money spent on first class education in Newton County and in Georgia. Nothing less than the next generation is at risk.