In today’s Sentinel:

Educators object to teacher furloughs
by Winston Jones/Douglas County Sentinel

Local educators are expressing concern and disappointment over Gov. Sonny Perdue’s call Tuesday for three days of teacher furloughs to help plug state budget shortfalls.

The furlough proposal comes on top of an additional 3 percent cut in state QBE (Quality Basic Education) funding also announced at Perdue’s Tuesday afternoon news conference. The furloughs will likely come on teacher work days, times teachers use for planning.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Douglas County School Superintendent Don Remillard. “I’m not surprised that we got additional cuts to the budget, but to furlough staff on top of that is worse than we anticipated. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to that.”

Remillard said he learned of the cuts through an emergency call from the governor’s office to all school systems, shortly before Perdue’s news conference.

“(State School Superintendent) Kathy Cox has indicated there will be additional details either Friday or early next week,” he said.

Once the details are revealed, Remillard said the county system will have to revisit its budget and look at places where additional cuts can be made.

Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Jimmy Bartlett called the cuts “absolutely terrible” and said their impact on the system would be “huge.”

“We’ve already had cuts of about $9 million this year, although the $6 million in federal stimulus funds will offset some of it,” Bartlett said Wednesday. “The superintendent and finance department will be working through the numbers to see what it will mean.”

He said the cuts continue to shift the financial burden of education from the state to local taxpayers.

“When I first came on the board, the state funding was 67 percent,” he said. “This year it’s going to be only 53 percent.”

Board member Larry Barnes, who serves as the BOE’s legislative liaison, said he wonders when the cuts are going to stop.

“The state is not living up to its responsibility to fund education,” Barnes said, “particularly with all the federal requirements we’re being asked to meet.”

He said Douglas County’s system has been more fortunate than others in the state to have a sufficient level of reserves to absorb some of the cuts.

“Our responsibility is to the kids,” he said. “I just wonder when it’s (cuts) going to end.”

Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) which represents about 42,000 teachers, issued a statement Wednesday questioning the impact of the furlough and speculating that the governor doesn’t have power to furlough teachers since they are employed by the local school systems.

“Loss of these planning days will negatively impact teachers’ ability to provide quality instruction for their students,” Hubbard said. “This amounts to less time to prepare for their students, which impacts their ability to get the school year off to a good start.”

Hubbard suggested the governor look at other areas for saving money, such as the state’s tax-free holidays and the tax incentives the state gives to motion picture companies.

“Educators pay $550-$600 out of their own pockets each year to provide for their classrooms and students,” he said. “Name any other profession where employees take out of their own pockets, and subsequently from their own families, to provide for their jobs.”

Perdue also called Tuesday for a 3 percent cut from Medicaid and ordered most other agencies to slash another 5 percent from their budgets and provide three unpaid furlough days to help fill the state’s $900 million shortfall. He warned that more cuts may be coming if state tax collections don’t rebound.

Perdue said the latest round of cuts were unavoidable amid falling revenues that have forced the state to cut about $3.7 billion from its spending plan during the last few months. These cuts have taken the Georgia budget down to the level it was around 2005 when it had one million fewer residents.