Dougherty County School Board member Darrel Ealum, left, Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely, Reps. Winfred Dukes, Ed Rynders and board member James Bush, talked about the Dougherty School System's priorities Thursday for the upcoming legislative session (Photo: Terry Lewis)
ALBANY — Dougherty County School Board members and system officials met Thursday with area lawmakers to present their wish list of items they would like to see considered when the Georgia General Assembly convenes next month in Atlanta.
They also received some unexpected good news when State Rep. Ed Rydners predicted the state budget will probably contain a surplus, and that some of the surplus could be used to take the sting out of five consecutive years of reductions in education funding.
“It’s my opinion that that we might see a $500 to $600 million surplus in the upcoming budget,” Rynders said. “I also think that we will see some of that money put back into relieving austerity cuts.”
That was welcome news to DCSS Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely.
“(Rynder’s statement) did surprise me a little,” Mosely said. “But we had heard that a surplus was a possibility and we had already asked if there was a surplus that the money be used to ease auserity cuts. I was glad to hear him say that.”
In addition to Rynders, State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson; State Reps. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert; and Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, and Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, heard the city and county contingents’ concerns. The legislators also met with officials from the City of Albany and Dougherty County later in the day.
Greene, however, tried to temper hopes for increased funding from the state.
“We certainly hope to see some easing of austerity cuts, but don’t count on it,” Greene said. “Education gets more than 53 percent of the state budget right now. We know y’all are frustrated, but so are we.”
School officials then asked the lawmakers for financial help in attracting badly needed science and math teachers to the district.
“Teacher education across the state is not where we want it to be,” Sims, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said. “We do understand your problem in finding math and science teachers, but it’s always been this way. We have to be creative in our hiring and look beyond our borders and see who’s out there.”
Sims added she thought state education spending was out of whack.
“We give $900,000 a year to Community In Schools to help kids in school who don’t want to be there,” she said. “And we give only $125,000 a year, if that, to Georgia Youth Science and Technology (to attract STEM teachers to the state). That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Board Chair Carol Tharin brought up the state’s mandate for Georgia’s school districts to choose an operational system by June 30. Local school districts must pick among becoming a charter, IE2 or status quo system. It appears the state is pushing districts to either the charter or IE2, which the state Department of Education contends will result in more flexibility in spending.
Dukes responded by saying he thought that the state would be adding more flexibility options to the mandate before the June deadline.
Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, did not attend Thursday’s meetings because she is still recovering from injuries suffered in a recent auto accident in Atlanta.