Schools Largely Spared in Budget Slashing in Georgia

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Local school systems in Georgia have emerged in relatively good shape from the state's summer round of budget cutting and the most severe layoffs of government workers in state history.

In order to make up a $415-million deficit in Georgia's $7.54-billion budget, the legislature last month approved a plan proposed by Gov. Zell Miller to trim 2,189 state employees.

As a result, the state education department will lose 89 employees next month, an 8 percent staff reduction that will yield a savings of $5 million.

State aid to local school systems, however, will be reduced by only 2.7 percent.

Mr. Miller had appealed for public support for the cuts in a dramatic televised address--the first time a Georgia governor has spoken directly to the people of the state over commercial television networks.

The former teacher, who has made education a top priority of his firstyear administration, promised in his speech that the $77-million reduction in the education budget would not affect either teacher salaries or the equalization money that is targeted on property-poor school districts.

Although the $2.8-billion Quality Basic Education funding program-the cornerstone of the state's school reform efforts--will be cut by $66 million, the Governor noted that the reductions would be made in non-instructional areas and that local school beards would have the flexibility to decide what programs and purchases to cut.

Over all, the Governor said, precollegiate education emerged with 1 percent more of the total state budget after the revisions than it had been slated to receive before the legislature was forced to make the cuts.

"An educated workforce is absolutely essential to economic growth in this global economy of ours," Mr. Miller said.

Department's 'Big Hit'

Even so, money that would have provided pre-kindergarten classes for disadvantaged 4-year-olds and elementary foreign-language instruction was slashed from the budget, as were funds to expand the Governor's Honors Program for top students. All of the programs had been championed by Mr. Miller.

Superintendent of Schools Werner Rogers said in a statement that the elimination of the new programs "will hurt," but added that he was "pleased that the Governor has made every effort to protect the classroom."

The education department did not fare as well. Among the programs and positions to be eliminated are the office of business-education partnerships, which assisted local school systems in setting up collaborative programs.

The department's media-resources unit also was abolished, while 6 consultants and 12 secretaries in the vocational-education division will lose their jobs.

Employees working in library services, technology support, and public relations also are being laid off, along with 10 regional directors and 6 field administrators in the department's regional offices.

"It was a big hit," said Wagers Chenault, a public-information specialist with the department. "It will certainly affect our ability to produce support services for local school systems."

Georgia's fiscal troubles, like those of many states, were prompted by lower-than-expected collections of income and sales taxes resulting from the economic slowdown. During the regular legislative session last spring, educators were painfully aware that the state had little new money to spend. (See Education Week, March 27, 1991.)

For the first time in state history, for example, teachers did not receive across-the-beard pay hikes. Instead, 45,000 of the state's 77,000 teachers eligible to advance on the salary schedule will receive 3 percent raises.

Few Protests

Given the state's financial situation, the recent round of cuts did not draw many protests.

"Frankly, the cut has been received very well, because educators and school boards are pleased that the cuts were not at a higher percentage level," said Gary Ashley, executive vice president of the Georgia School Boards Association.

Although both Governor Miller and Superintendent Rogers stressed that localities would have the flexibility to adjust their own budgets to absorb the cuts, Mr. Ashley noted that districts are in a difficult position because they have to cut budgets that have already been approved.

Most school districts are expected to reduce their spending on classroom supplies and textbooks, he noted. But a significant number also are instituting hiring freezes and leaving vacant positions unfilled.

Few school districts have so far been forced to lay off teachers. But such actions seem likely in the future, Mr. Ashley warned, because personnel costs typically make up about 85 percent of district expenses.

"I think generally it's going to be manageable," he said. "The key is going to be what happens in the '92 General Assembly and with the appropriations bill for next year. " That's the key to the continuation of the funding for our schools."

Vol. 11, Issue 02, Page 14

Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as Schools Largely Spared in Budget Slashing in Georgia
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