The Sun News

More cuts will damage quality of education in Houston schools

Just when we hoped the worst of the storm had passed and that our economy would head for recovery, we learn that instead we are facing dire, unprecedented revenue shortages ahead.

Everyone is affected by these hard economic times, and school systems are not immune. In fact, more than 30 school systems in Georgia are currently in deficit spending.

No matter how bad it gets, we can be thankful that Houston County is in better shape than most, but we must prepare, because a bigger storm is brewing.

In my 35 years in education, we’ve never had an economic downturn like we now face.

Although we have been able to overcome the severe cuts without adversely affecting instruction, it’s only going to get tougher, because even more cuts must be made. Our children deserve the very best, and we will do everything within our power to continue to deliver the quality of education that our community has come to expect and that it deserves.

I want the public to know, however, what we face. Since 2003, the state has cut revenues to our school system through “austerity reductions” alone to the tune of $49.4 million. Our total cuts during this period are well in excess of $60 million due to cuts or elimination of many other state-funded programs and grants.

Next year, the total austerity reductions are projected to reach more than $70 million, with overall reductions to our state funding being greater than $80 million since 2003. In fiscal 2009 alone, state revenue reductions totaled $14.4 million, followed in fiscal 2010 by additional cuts of $28.6 million so far.

Cuts on top of the austerity reductions come in many forms, to include reductions in the funding of transportation, nurses, state QBE formulas, equalization grants, allotments and teacher salaries.

Thankfully, the cuts in state funding were partially offset by stimulus funds of $7.2 million, or the situation would have been even more drastic. Although the stimulus funds softened the blow of the cuts this year, the money will run out after next year.

The stimulus funds were allotted to specific areas — such as special education and Title I programs — and we have made good use of that money, but it will end soon. Based on current projections, the Houston County school system will be cut another $15 million to $25 million next year, with the possibility of more cuts remaining for this fiscal year.

During this bleak economic time, we will do what it takes and review all programs and expenditures to meet the revenue stream. More cuts, however, will adversely affect the quality of education.

Drastic and severe cuts hurt teachers and students and negatively impact progress. The advantages of smaller class sizes and the support programs that have been a big part of the success of our school system may go by the wayside. Our employees have given up six days of pay and professional learning this year and have done so with great professionalism.

More cuts may mean discontinuing worthwhile programs and a reduction in force, forcing us to let go valuable personnel.

The reality is that although we have tightened our belts, our board must make some more tough decisions. It will not be business as usual, but we will maintain our focus on teaching and learning.

Whatever comes our way, we will make these hard decisions, but we ask the General Assembly to look at other sources of revenue to soften the blow. I urge our legislators to consider the recommendations given by nonprofit, non-partisan agencies such as the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute to close deficits through a combination of raising new revenues and cuts in expenditures. The institute proposes many revenue-raising options. To read about these proposals, visit www.gbpi.org.

Our school system is facing very difficult financial constraints. We need your support and ask that you contact our legislators to encourage them to consider balancing the budget through a combination of raising new revenues and cuts in expenditures. Please speak up for K-12 public education. Georgia’s children deserve the very best we can provide. David Carpenter is superintendent of Houston County schools. He may be reached at 988-6257 or david.carpenter@hcbe.net.

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