Lawmakers, schools react to budget woes

By Greg Gelpi

School officials scrambled to rework their budgets with the governor's proposed budget cuts to education, but legislators have announced a measure that would eliminate the need for cuts.

The Georgia House Appropriations Committee announced plans to avoid Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed a $380 million cut to education.

State Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, said the add-backs are possible because of money found from bed fees charged to nursing homes and delaying a proposed teacher and state employee pay raise by three months. The governor proposed a 2-percent pay raise for teachers and state employees.

The driving force behind the add-backs has been to help local school boards avoid hiking property taxes, Barnes, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said.

Barnes and State Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, issued a joint press release on the proposed add-backs.

"While we continue our struggle with the budget because of the economy, we are working hard to minimize the impact on our local school system in Clayton County."

The add-backs would fund 5,300 teachers as well as classroom supplies.

The house budget writers would also eliminate Perdue's proposed increased costs in teacher and state employee health insurance and reduce state employee furloughs.

Henry County Public Schools has adapted to cuts from the state, since the state has cut funding each of the last two years, Comptroller Jeff Allie said.

"At some point our instructional services will suffer," Allie said. "Eventually (the cuts) will catch up."

Allie listed several measures that the Henry school system has taken to absorb the cuts.

Among those are eliminating paraprofessionals for first and second grades, delaying textbook adoptions for kindergarten through fifth grades, delaying the purchase of new school buses, reducing funding to schools for instructional materials, freezing central office hiring, reducing custodial and janitorial staff and getting the number of teachers more inline with state funding for teachers.

"No one will lose their jobs next year, but they could be assigned to new schools," Allie said. "That is one benefit to our growth."

Henry County will have four new schools open in the fall.

With the addition of 2,500 to 3,000 new students each year, he said the school system has been preparing for state cuts, but he hopes this will be the last year for these cuts.

Lee Davis, the chief financial officer of the Clayton County school system, said earlier in the week that the system is considering many options for dealing with cuts, but that nothing had been finalized.

The Clayton school board will have a preliminary budget review at 6 p.m. Monday in a special called meeting. The finance and budget committee of the board will meet at 6:30 p.m.

With the governor's proposed budget, the Clayton system would be about $4 million short of what it had budgeted.

Davis said rumors pop up every year about how budgetary problems will be dealt with, but said everything is simply a rumor at this point, since nothing has been finalized.