The Muscogee County School District has released its updated legislative priorities, a month before the 2018 Georgia General Assembly convenes.
MCSD Superintendent David Lewis presented the list of 10 concerns during Thursday's meeting the Muscogee County School board conducted with the Columbus legislative delegation. In no particular order, Lewis said, the district's priorities are:
1. "Release local school districts to pursue other health care options for their classified employees outside of the State Health Plan."
Classified employees are the support staff, the ones without a teaching certificate, such as custodians, cafeteria workers, secretaries and bus drivers. If this is allowed, school districts could form regional plans that could save money on health insurance for employees and school districts.
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2. "Improve the Public School Employee Retirement Savings plan."
MCSD contends this plan is "inadequate and produces very little income for long-service retirees from custodial, plant service, food service and bus driving positions." The district recommends a plan that rewards long-service personnel.
3. "Adjust QBE funding."
QBE is the Quality Basic Education act, which prescribes the state's funding formula for its public school districts. It's 37 years old, needs updating and never has been fully funded, critics insist.
MCSD contends, "State of Georgia funding for entry-level teachers ($36,311) will significantly lag behind other professional positions in the labor market and create a disincentive in attracting college graduates to this profession. Also, the current traditional salary schedule of only rewarding growth for years of experience and additional degrees does not reward the behavior that drives student achievement and dissuades newer teachers from staying in the profession."
4. "Increase funding for staffing that supports compliance under IDEA and ADA, due to the increasing number of students with exceptionalities in the state of Georgia and the complexity of the disabilities local school districts need to support."
5. "Review and revise, as necessary, the current equalization formula."
6. "Consider reinstating retired educators to be employed in TRS (Teacher Retirement System) full-time positions in critical-need fields without jeopardizing their retirement. In line with this priority, request the employer and employee portion of the TRS contributions during the retirees' employment be waived."
7. "Address inconsistent procedures and practices regarding group home student enrollment."
Graduation rates can unfairly decrease when proper documentation doesn't track transient students. This also is a problem when home-schooled students are withdrawn from a public school and "no subsequent transfer information or request for records from another school" is provided or available, MCSD says.
8. "Provide adequate funding to support elementary and middle grades art, music, foreign language and physical education programs."
The state funds one teacher per 345 students in grades 1-8 for only one of the aforementioned subject areas. MCSD wants the state to expand the allocation to kindergarten and fund all of those subjects at the same time instead of forcing schools and districts to choose.
"Implementation of this recommendation would provide critical personnel as well as allow planning time for K-5 teachers," MCSD says.
9. "Support pre-kindergarten and early childhood education programs."
10. "Loss of airport aviation fuel tax revenues that are included in the LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) and ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) collections."
As of last week, the Federal Aviation Administration has been enforcing the withholding of these taxes. Muscogee is one of 13 counties in the state with an airport, meaning it is losing this revenue, projected to be $88,071 in Muscogee this fiscal year.