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Rynders: School funding expected

ALBANY -- Gov. Sonny Perdue had proposed a $17 million cut in equalization grants as part of its 2010 amended budget, but the Georgia House has since restored those funds and the Senate has agreed to the restoration.

Although the state budget has not been approved, since both the House and Senate agreed to the equalization funds, the $17 million will likely stay in the budget, said state Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg.

The funds are aimed at helping the state's rural schools. However, the timetable as to when the school systems will receive the funds is uncertain.

Rynders said Dougherty County School System would receive $415,706, Lee County School System would get $124,513, Mitchell County School System would receive $29,958, Terrell County School System would net $33,137 and Worth County would receive $80,478.

"Equalization grants are additional aid provided to school systems above the core QBE (Quality Basic Education) formula earnings and are appropriated to narrow the gap between systems in terms of wealth per pupil," said state Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, chairman of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee in a news release.

Rynders said the upcoming discussion on the state's $1 billion budget shortfall will strongly test legislators. Lawmakers voted Thursday to take a two-week break before they reconvene for rare joint hearings with the House and the Senate combined.

"I haven't been able to recall the last time the Senate and House have held joint budget appropriations hearings," Rynders said. "We have got to find roughly $1 billion."

During the last two years, the state has been forced cut $4 billion from its budget, which represents 20 percent of the state budget.

"There are three areas being strongly considered," Rynders said of possible areas to cut. "Revenue enhancements, i.e. tax increase; work force reduction, i.e. termination; merging or total elimination of programs and agencies, or some combination of the three. We have to have, by order of the state Constitution, a balanced budget."

For a national perspective, Rynders related that California had laid off 20,000 teachers as of September 2009 and that Hawaii laid off 1,100 state workers.

On Thursday, Rynders' authored bill, House Bill 977, passed the House 162-0. House Bill 977 states: "If any local board of education furloughs teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, support staff, or other non-administrative positions during any school year, such local board of education shall not use any state funds to provide a salary increase for the local school superintendent or administrators during such school year."

The bill was fueled by DeKalb County Superintendent Crawford Lewis recently being voted a $15,000 pay raise by the school system's school board, while school employees were required to take a furlough day. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Lewis' annual salary was increased to $255,000 by the DeKalb County School Board.

"(It's) fairly unusual to get a unanimous vote, but the House sent the strongest message that they are going to defend the people in the trenches when it comes to education," Rynders said.

The bill also includes language that would force school boards that tried to bypass state funds to give an administrator or superintendent a pay raise to explain the rationale with a public hearing for community input. They would also have to give seven days notice of the public forum as a legal notice in a local newspaper or publication.

Co-authors on House Bill 977 include state Reps. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta 54, Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, Valdosta school teacher and Democrat Amy Carter, and Jay Powell, R-Camilla. Lindsey is the Majority Whip and the former chairman of education appropriations. Millar is vice chairman of education.

The bill is supported by the Georgia Association of Educators and Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

Rynders said that HB 977 will now go to the Senate where it will be assigned to a Senate committee, which likely will be the Education Committee.