Middle Georgia school superintendents: 'We are facing serious budget crisis'

Seven Middle Georgia school superintendents called a news conference today in Macon to warn parents that when their children enter public schools this fall, years of budget cuts will be more than visible.

“In the past few years, our parents have walked into their child’s school and have not likely noticed changes that took place due to recent budget cuts,” Houston County schools Superintendent David Carpenter said. “Our parents and other stakeholders need to be prepared for a different school this coming year.”

“There may be fewer personnel in the building. Their children may have more classmates in each class. There may be fewer programs offered and less field trips. Parents may be asked to buy even more school supplies and to volunteer more often.”

The school lawns will be mowed less often, and school facilities will lose a little shine, Carpenter added.

At Macon State College, superintendents from Houston, Bibb, Jones, Monroe, Crawford and Twiggs county school systems met to “tell their story” and make a plea to the General Assembly to look at other sources of revenue to help balance the budget. Peach County Superintendent Susan Clark did not attend because her son is coming home from Afghanistan, but other system officials attended in her place.

Carpenter said ideas lawmakers should consider to generate revenue include increasing the sales tax rate or placing an excise tax on cigarettes.

“We ask that our communities please speak up for K-12 public education,” he said. “We need the public’s support and hope that citizens will contact their legislators to encourage them to consider balancing the budget through a combination of raising new revenues and cuts in expenditures.”

The seven school systems collectively serve 68,000 students and 10,000 employees and since 2003 have had a total of $136 million in state cuts.

Crawford County school leaders say they will consider a four-day school week for this fall. Representatives from all the systems said they will have larger class sizes, most likely up two students per class.

They each said teacher and staff layoffs likely will come this fall. The state has also said systems will lose funding in the 2010-11 school year equal to six days.

Each of the systems will have to either cover those instructional days from their general fund budgets, suffer through another round of teacher furloughs or decide not to have school those six days, which may mean a shorter school year.

“These cuts are now, but they will be felt (by students) for years and years to come,” said Sylvia McGee, Bibb County school system’s acting superintendent.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.