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School superintendent speaks to homebuilders
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A major consideration for many parents looking for a place to plant their homestead is the quality of the local school system.

Recognizing this, the Dawson/Lumpkin Homebuilders Association invited Keith Porter, superintendent of Dawson County schools, to speak at its monthly meeting.

Porter opened by acknowledging the tough economic times for the national housing market.

"My father-in-law built houses and my brother was a contractor, so this organization is near and dear to my heart. I know you all are working in a challenging time," Porter said.

He expressed to homebuilders that while Dawson County schools are strong academically and socially, they are currently facing a dire financial situation.

The school system recently found out that the Department of Community Health is raising health care insurance premiums next year by $50 per month, per classified employee, or non-faculty, administrative and staff employees.

This is in addition to the school system receiving more than $2.5 million in austerity cuts per year and being required to contribute five mills of the local tax collection to the state for the 10th straight year.

"With the new health care insurance premiums being put on us we went from paying about $2,500 per classified employee [this year] to nearly $9,000 per classified employee in three years," Porter said. "It will cost us about $1.3 million. It is going up countywide $400,000 each year for the next three years."

Porter expressed school official's exasperation when hearing this news earlier this year.

"We said, ‘Why? Why are you charging us so much?' [The Department of Community Health] said it's because they couldn't pay for all the claims coming in," Porter said.

When seeking to focus on three areas of student development, including literacy, leadership and technology, schools are experiencing difficulties with the budget strains, Porter explained.

"It is a challenge for us to beat that loss of revenue," he said.

Porter announced that the loss of revenue may result in teacher layoffs and more furlough days. Other possibilities are reducing student days, freezing programs and increasing the millage rate, for the second year.

Members of the homebuilders association asked how they might help and Porter asked them to share their opinions and grievances about budget cuts more openly with state government officials.

Some members said they had already begun to ask for revised legislation.

Another big topic of discussion was E-SPLOST funds. Porter said that although the board of education would prefer to allot these funds to teacher salaries and benefits, they are legally limited.

"If I could use that 1-cent to pay people I certainly would over building or buying land. But we can't," he said.

"We can't use any of that to pay our people or their benefits. So if you are contacting legislators, this would be a great thing to say. Tell them that if they built a new sales tax or use the current one in a different way we could use that."

Porter encouraged homebuilders to continue to be active and involved in the school system.

"I appreciate your support for the children and thank you for all you do for us," he said.