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Officials discuss issues with legislator

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

The Henry County Commission and the Henry County Board of Education got together with a member of the Henry County Legislative Delegation for a meeting of the minds.

The joint meeting, held Thursday at the county's administrative offices in McDonough, provided a chance for officials to discuss their concerns over state funding, with State Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough).

Two of the main topics were: the school system's dependence on state funding, and various road improvement projects, planned or underway, throughout Henry.

District 1 County Commissioner Warren Holder expressed his frustration to Davis about the lack of state funding to help the county with its various road projects. The county finances those projects with Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds.

"Twenty-five percent of my SPLOST transportation dollars are going for intersection improvements along state routes," he said. "There was no state participation."

Davis, in turn, explained to the commissioners that the legislative delegation is doing all it can to ensure that Henry County gets its share of funding.

"Everyone has challenges and everyone has issues," he said. "We're fighting to get everything we can."

Some school board members said they are concerned about financial support to educate students in the county. Ray Hudalla, acting chairman of the Henry County Board of Education, said his major concern centers on how the tight budget will affect the ability of the schools to provide a high-quality education.

"I think that's our job," Hudalla said. "I think that's what the citizens want, and I think it's in the best interest of our county to be able to do that."

Adding children to the classrooms while cutting back on staff and needed academic programs, he said, worries him.

During the meeting, a prepared pamphlet, listing the school board's 2009 legislative priorities and positions, was distributed. The pamphlet illustrated how state funding for maintenance and operation for schools has decreased, from 62 percent during the 1997-98 school year, to 57 percent for 2008-09.

Those reductions in state funding during that time, the pamphlet stated, have created an increased burden on local taxpayers.

Another item listed included a request to limit existing unfunded, or under-funded, state mandates, and prohibit new ones. School officials also are requesting that the legislators establish, and maintain, an education-funding partnership between the state and local school systems.

School Board Vice Chairperson Pam Nutt, one of those in attendance, said the board is worried about more cuts in state funding. Those cuts will mean more students in each classroom, she said.

"You may not think two extra children make a difference," Nutt said. "But when you have a large class, especially if your class is full of special-needs children, two more makes a big deal [difference]."

The state Board of Education voted Thursday to approve a statewide measure to exempt class-size maximums for elementary and middle schools for the 2009-2010 school year. The measure could increase the maximum class size by two additional students per classroom.

Nutt said she is concerned about what other restrictions the state will place on the local school system. "We're just holding on by the seat of our pants and wondering OK, what's next?"

She said the school system's building program is important, and funds will be needed to finance construction of a planned technical college in Henry County.

Nutt pointed out that school board members may have seemed critical at times, but said the meeting with Davis was helpful in opening a dialogue between school officials and legislators.

"We're not throwing rocks," she said. "We just want them to see what we're up against."