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BOE asks for more help from legislators

COVINGTON - Three of the four Newton County state legislative delegates attended the Newton County Board of Education's combined work session and meeting Tuesday night to hear the school system's legislative concerns.

"This meeting and invitation ... has a long tradition," said Superintendent Steven Whatley at Tuesday's meeting. "We wanted to make sure our concerns are expressed to (the delegates)."

State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, and State Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, attended the meeting.

Earlier this school year, board members selected the 10 most serious issues they wanted to share, many of them dealing with funding.

"We realize there are a lot of concerns this county faces - water is an issue, transportation is a major issue and education is always an issue, as well as health care," Whatley said Tuesday. "We know we are all competing for a piece of the pie - the money that comes in to the state."

Douglas said even though the "pie" gets a little bigger this year, "there's only so much to the pie.

"If we do have a budget surplus ... then what we need to do is move that surplus ... to wherever it is needed before we look at raising taxes," said Douglas, former chairman of the Newton County BOE.

Whatley is especially concerned with the shift of the financial burden from the state to the local school systems.

"We have seen over some time a shift," he said. "We do not support the unfair shifting of the tax burden to the local school district or shifting the tax burden from one group of taxpayers to another group of taxpayers. Before any limitation, exemptions or tax reduction is enacted, an analysis of local impact needs to be undertaken and publicized."

Whatley also presented such financial issues as not receiving all of the state money promised, funding for buses and obtaining more state money for capital outlay projects, which funds facility construction.

"I wish we could write you the check you need, but we don't have the money," Lunsford said. "Y'all do a phenomenal job with the money we give you. We're going to do the very best we can for you."

Whatley also expressed interest in changing class size maximums back to a system average, instead of by individual class sizes and waivers.

"Everyone agrees we should lower the class size - that's wonderful, but we also have reservations that when one student moves in ... we have to add a teacher (and) break up a class," Whatley said.

Both Douglas and Lunsford agreed.

"Frankly, I think it's none of our business how many (students) are sitting in class - it should be your decision," Douglas said. "I hope we can get back to that."

The new legislative session begins Jan. 14.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

Legislative concerns for the Newton County School System:

1. Generating funds for public education

2. Honoring intentions of QBE formula

3. Restoring flexibility to local school boards

4. Funding capital outlay

5. Fully funding the state funding formula

6. Increasing state funding formula for maintenance and operations

7. Funding for school buses

8. Funding for additional professional learning

9. Allowing TRS retirees to continue employment without penalty

10. Eliminating requirement for concurrent resolutions for SPLOSTS

Source: Newton County School System