Middle Georgia College aviation campus funding missing from budget

Confusion regarding a merger that rolled an aviation school into Middle Georgia College has resulted in funding for the aviation campus being left out of next year’s state budget, at least for now.

Georgia Aviation Technical College in Eastman merged into Middle Georgia College in 2007. The technical college’s $3.7 million budget then was provided to Cochran-based Middle Georgia College through a line item in the state budget.

This year, the college began receiving funding for the aviation campus through the funding formula that determines how much money each college receives, said Bert Brantley, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s spokesman. The problem, he said, is that the formula for the aviation campus earns $1.8 million and does not account for the higher cost of the program nor the maintenance and operation of aircraft.

Middle Georgia College President Michael Stoy said he needs the full $3.7 million to run the campus, which enrolls about 375 students and employs about 50 faculty and staff members.

“We are working with the General Assembly to restore the funding,” Brantley wrote in an e-mail interview. “It was an oversight, it was not intentional.”

Legislators said they will try to get the money restored, although some were more certain of success than others.

“It will be cleared up,” said state Rep. Jimmy Pruett, R-Eastman, who has been working with the college. “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble at all getting it back in the budget. ... It was an honest mistake.”

Although the state House already passed the budget without the funding, Pruett said he spoke with the chairmen of the Senate’s appropriations and higher education committees about the issue.

State Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the Senate will try to restore funding, but it will be difficult.

“It gets harder every day because of all the budget problems we’ve got,” he said. “We’re really going to be pinched as far as adding new funds.”

From where that money will come if restored is uncertain. The budget already has been pared down due to state revenue problems, and state leaders warned last week that more cuts are necessary.

Once the Senate passes its budget, a conference committee will reconcile differences between its budget and the one in the House.

If the money does not come through in next year’s budget, the college would have a difficult time absorbing cuts on its own, Stoy said.

The college’s budget already has been cut 10 percent — $1.9 million — as part of across-the-board reductions at the state’s colleges and universities, said Lynn Hobbs, the college’s vice president for fiscal affairs.

Without the $3.7 million, the college would have to have a “drastic reduction” in employees, Stoy said.

He said he doesn’t foresee the closure of the aviation campus, which supports the state’s only public aviation program.

Pruett agreed the campus would not close.

“There is zero chance of that happening,” he said. “I’m 100 percent confident that the school is not at all in jeopardy.”

Stoy said he hoped to get relief somewhere, if not from the state, then maybe from the University System of Georgia.

University System spokesman John Millsaps said he didn’t want to speculate on whether the state agency could provide the money.

“Clearly, we would like to see funding restored,” he said.

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.