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Board of Education delegates address concerns with state lawmakers
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School Superintendent Randy Shearouse, Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff and school board members Lamar Allen (Chairman, Dist. 3) and James Dasher (Dist. 4), took advantage of Effingham Day at the Capitol on Jan. 26 to express their concerns about Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposed 2010 budget.

If the budget is approved as presented and the state cuts 3 percent from education (in addition to the cuts that have already been made) the Effingham County school system will realize a loss of approximately $2 million in state funds, plus the additional loss of funds for school nurses.

While in Atlanta, Shearouse, Arnsdorff, Allen and Dasher visited with Sen. Jack Hill, chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, staff members in Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s office and local legislative delegation members Reps. Jon Burns and Buddy Carter.

According to Arnsdorff, the purpose for the meetings was to express the system’s appreciation to the state’s decision makers who shape education policy and funding, both of which have a significant impact on the Effingham County school system.

“We wanted them to know that we appreciate their careful consideration of education policy and the complex issue of education funding in Georgia,” explained Arnsdorff, “but we also wanted to bring several issues to their attention.”

Perdue’s proposed budget would also eliminate the $191,000 the Effingham County BOE receives and uses to help fund school nurses in its 13 k-12 facilities and two pre-k facilities. The actual annual cost for this program is $636,000.

The BOE delegates also wanted to mention the importance of selling the bonds for the new Effingham County Middle School.

The delay in selling the bonds has required the system to expend local E-SPOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds to finance the construction of the new school. The bonds are slated to be sold in February and Shearouse is eager to be reimbursed for the money the state promised to contribute as construction is moving ahead on schedule.
Effingham educators are also concerned with the changes the state has made to the dual enrollment program. This program has already lost the majority of its state funding and the BOE delegates are concerned with how additional cuts will affect the future of the dual enrollment program. Students enrolled in the program attend classes at their high school and at local four-year or technical colleges. The governor’s budget proposes to eliminate the state’s FTE funding for these students.

The state BOE has also proposed changes in class sizes for k-8 grades. Although they appreciate the state’s efforts to reduce local costs by adding students, Arnsdorff said the BOE delegates suggested that the state adopt an average class size approach instead of making individual classes meet the proposed class size rules.

This allows individual classes to stay consistent without the concern of going over the funding level in any particular class.

“With an average class size approach,” said Arnsdorff, “we wouldn’t have to move students from one class to another just to meet a class-size rule.”

Other issues Shearouse and Arnsdorff discussed with state legislators included the Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant. The relief grant provided by the state as a way of decreasing a homeowner’s burden has been eliminated by Perdue due to difficult economic times. House of Representatives members voted to have the state cover the $428 million HTRG for this year.

Another issue Shearouse and Arnsdorff addressed with the lieutenant governor’s staff was the proposal to eliminate the services of the Regional Educational Services Agency (RESA). First District RESA provides services to 18 counties, including Effingham, which enable local schools to enhance the education of children by providing member systems with comprehensive shared services of exceptional quality.

Providing these services would become the responsibility of the local systems, which would receive some funding but not enough to cover the increase in staff and salaries.

In addition to sharing their concerns with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the BOE delegates provided them with an update on the Effingham Career Academy.

The board hopes to break ground in April on the new facility, which will be built next to Effingham’s Savannah Tech campus.