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Rynders hears concerns from Lee school board

LEESBURG - If there's going to be more state cuts in education, Lee County School System Superintendent Lawrence Walters told state Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, that he would prefer to absorb them over a longer period of time than the last two months of the school year.

Walters' concern was one of many made during a called Lee County Board of Education meeting with Rynders at the school system's Central Office Tuesday evening. Walters comments were in reference to plans by the governor's office to release preliminary state budget figures next week.

"The sooner we know the better because we can spread it over more pay days," Walters told Rynders, who was sitting next to board members in the front of the room at the meeting which attracted about 30 concerned citizens and school officials.

Rynders told Walters that information about a supplemental budget may be available in early February and preliminary info about the general budget possibly in late January.

Earlier in the meeting, Rynders told the spectators that Georgia's economy was faring better than many other states during the economic downturn due to Georgia's diverse revenue streams. This prompted board member Greg Duke to ask Rynders how these revenue streams were performing currently. Rynders said all revenue streams are garnering fewer funds than last year.

This is particularly sobering news since the state is enduring its worst budget crunch in Georgia history and is about a $1.5 billion short, Rynders said.

"There's no more fat," said Rynders, whose wife and daughter teach in public education. "Now, it's the decision of priorities. I get people who call me about closing a (state) park. My two priorities are education and health care."

To provide the audience with an idea of how other states are dealing with cuts, Rynders supplied a handout from the National Conference of State Legislatures on actions and proposals to balance FY 2010 budget shortfalls. Alabama, for example, had its state personnel board approve up to 24 furlough days a year.

Board Chair Sylvia Vann also told Rynders some points that the Georgia School Boards Association asked all its boards to pass along to state legislators. One of these points was requesting a list of tax expenditures and exceptions.

Late in the meeting, Rynders opened up the discussion to the floor since the Lee County School Board and Walters had asked all the previous questions. No one in the audience raised their hand. At which point, Rynders complimented some of the educators with focusing their attention on classroom health and not on possible state cuts or additional furloughs.

And although some state legislators may not know much about Leesburg, Rynders said many are well aware of the school system's strong reputation for academics with it making Adequate Yearly Progress as a system for six years in a row. Only one other school system with more than five schools can make such a boast.

"They know about our schools," Rynders said. "Public confidence in this system is something we can never play down because public education in Southwest Georgia is so dire. We're so blessed in so many ways."

Rynders said he found the meeting beneficial and was pleased with what it accomplished.

"I thought it was extremely positive," he said after the meeting. "It's always good to have a dialogue with educators and the school board. Everybody knows during these tough economic times that things are tough financially. The last two meetings I had, the teachers were concerned about making the classroom better. I think it speaks volumes about their commitment to quality education."

Rynders represents District 152 which encompasses part of Colquitt, Dougherty, Lee and Worth counties.