Chatter was in overdrive during the Muscogee County School Board's work session Monday as Sharon Adams, the school district's chief financial officer, presented some estimates about next fiscal year's budget.
The bottom line, she said, is that it looks like the district will lose another $1 million in state funding, despite the improved economy.
It would be the 13th straight year the district has lost state funding, she said, totaling $155 million in state revenue -- more than one full year's worth of state funding. This year's $270,596,469 budget includes $144,167,134 from the state.
Statewide, the Georgia Legislature has cut $7.4 billion in education funding the past six years, Adams said.
All of which prompted this passionate plea from Cathy Williams, the nine-member board's line county-wide representative:
"This is unconscionable. This is -- people, I'm going to talk for just a minute; I'm not running for re-election, so I don't have to worry about it. This is awful. What is happening to public education in this state is horrible. Every one of you sitting in this room and sitting in this county needs to say, 'This is unacceptable.' We cannot continue to educate our children and continue to get cut. We cannot continue to attract the best and the brightest to this community to teach and continue to get cut. This is ridiculous, and it's got to stop, and the only people who are going to stop it are you, are the voters. You have to tell the state legislators and the state leaders, 'This has got to stop.'"
District 2 representative John Wells, who is running for re-election, chimed in:
"I want to echo what she said. I continue to look at this over the years and it going down how many millions of dollars. The state is allocating funds for other parts of the state at the expense of education, public education. They're doing it every year. Public education is a whipping horse for them. All they got to do is cut, and they can fund their pet projects across the state. What gets me most is a person who can be walking down the street, decide they want to run for the state legislature, go in and pay their fee and get on the ballot. And if they have a personality, they can win election. And the first thing they do when they get to Atlanta is start throwing bills in the education hopper. That's unconscionable for that kind of thing to happen. The lobbyists and people up there pushing it through, it's just unbelievable to me that, year after year, that can happen. We ought to just rise up and say, 'We're not going to take it anymore.'"
Williams read aloud one of Adams' slides, noting the state's public education funding is averaging a loss of more than $1 billion during the past six years.
"This is economic development," Williams said. "This is our future. This is your children's future, your grandchildren's future -- a billion dollars a year for six years. It has to stop."
District 1 representative Pat Hugley Green, whose seat isn't up for re-election this year, concluded, "It's just easier to talk about what the school board members aren't doing or wasting money or spending money because we're so accessible to the people. But it's the same bad news, and I feel really bad for other districts, because so far we have been maintaining the integrity of the classroom while we make hard decisions about what to cut. While some of the legislators have the luxury of saying, 'Hey, we funded them. Y'all aren't doing what you're supposed to do with the money.' I think that's why we're interrupting you (Adams) and expressing this sentiment. It's not toward you, but we just keep hearing the same bad news over and over again, and we're sustaining these cuts and still trying to maintain the integrity of the classroom and keep people employed, even though it's over 80 percent of our budget. It's just really tough, and tough decisions have to be made to maintain our level of standards, our level of excellence, as we try to continue to close those achievement gaps."