School system to distribute legislative priorities

COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System and the Board of Education have developed their 2010 legislative priorities.

They have drafted 10 statements that give their positions on important issues they feel affect education, both locally and around the state.

The first priority -- tax reform, policy and impact -- is one of the most important, said NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley.

"(It's) needed in the state and something that is at the very heart of this financial crisis," Whatley said. "(Legislators) need to be very cognizant of the actions they take in the way of exemptions, credits that affect the revenue stream that, when in an economic downturn, hurt all of the state agencies, but more importantly the services that are provided by them."

They also are concerned with revenue shortfalls and cuts after budgets are set and support class size waivers; the continuation of capital outlay for construction; and local school board authority; state overrides; more funding for educational resources and textbooks; and more funding for maintenance, operation and transportation.

In the past, school officials have invited in legislators who represent the district for a special presentation in December, but this year, the school system instead plans to distribute the list of its legislative priorities to the community through its Web site, www.newtoncountyschools.org, a School Messenger automated phone message and a printed brochure at schools and through the mail.

Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for NCSS, said once the legislative priorities list is edited, system officials will begin to look at prices and determine how it will be printed.

The distribution also will list contact information for the local representatives and encourage the public to contact them with their thoughts and concerns.

"We have a great disconnection between the parents of our kids and what the Legislature is doing with education," said board member Cathy Dobbs during the school board's work session Tuesday. "We're hoping we can awaken a sleeping giant and people can become aware of decisions they're making about the local school systems. It's really important for us to stay tuned in to this because they've hacked away, and it's becoming really hard to prepare a budget and have it changed about 10 times."

She said this year she hopes the representatives will look at the budget and revenue streams and understand, instead of thinking about getting re-elected.

"I hope the leaders can step up this year ... and have some real leadership come out of the Gold Dome," she said. "Let's think about making this the best state we can make it. Georgia has one of the lowest tax rates in the nation, and we can't attract industry if we're one of the lowest ranked in education. You get what you pay for."