After seven years of significant cuts to education that wreaked havoc on the Dawson County school budget, Gov. Nathan Deal last week promised to send $315 million to schools across the state, including Dawson Countys.
While the budget first must be approved by the Georgia General Assembly, early indicators are good.
In his annual address to the Georgia General Assembly on Jan. 15, Deal said funds could help end teacher furloughs, add school days, and give raises as part of the largest education spending increase in seven years since before the Great Recession.
These funds will provide our local school systems with the resources and flexibility to address the most critical needs of their students and teachers, the governor said.
Deals plan allows local school boards to control how the money is spent.
I trust local government, he said. I trust local school boards and superintendents to use the money we are sending and put it in the places they think are most important.
Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter said the announcement was good news for the system.
I am the most optimistic that I have been in my five years as superintendent regarding the budget, Porter said. We have been hoping for positive news regarding funding from the state, and it appears to be happening.
Since 2010, the state has taken more than $7 million from the Dawson County school budget. Known as austerity cuts, the money is used to help the state balance its budget. Austerity cuts were made across-the-board in every school district.
Funds for education in Dawson County, known as ELOST (Education Local Option Sales Tax), were up more than $1 million over projections, according to a November 2013 report presented to the school board.
Additionally, the Dawson County school system may get help with rising health insurance costs, which went up $150 per month, per classified employee over the past two years. The governor directed the Office of Planning and Budget to set aside $98 million to address the increase. If approved, the funds could help offset a scheduled increase of $100,000 for this budget year.
The decision to delay the health insurance cost increases would mean that we would not have to expend over $100,000 for the increase in the fiscal year 2015 budget, Porter said. Over the past two years, we have spent around $250,000 to pay for the increases. ...
If Deals budget is approved, one of the first goals for the school system, Porter said, is to restore the 180-day calendar for fiscal year 2015.The system is currently on a 178-day calendar.
I dont want to leave the impression that funding is back to the way things were prior to this past decade of significant education cuts, Porter said, but we have been looking for good news for some time, and the proposals are a step in the right direction.
House Rep. Kevin Tanner said he was pleased with the governors announcement.
Im excited to see it, especially that its being done with no increase in state taxes, he said. Thats important to a lot of families still suffering across the state.
Tanner was host at an education listening forum in July at the University of North Georgias Dahlonega campus. More than a dozen teachers and parents from Dawson County attended. Recommendations were taken back to the capitol for consideration by House Education Committee Chair Brooks Coleman.
Allocation of funds for schools will not be determined until the Georgia General Assembly approves its budget.
We really hope that there will be sufficient funds to start looking at restoring some of the cuts that have been made over the past five years, but it is too early to tell, Porter said.
High school graduation rate increases
Separately, Dawson Countys high school graduation rate is up 10 percentage points to 84 percent over its 2011 scores, according to a report issued in December by the Georgia Board of Education.
Out of a total 429 public high schools in the state including public charter schools Dawson County ranks 33rd, putting the system in the top 10 percent of schools across the state.
I am so proud of our teachers, administrators, staff, students and community, Porter said.
The state school superintendent, Dr. John Barge, visited Dawson County Middle School earlier this month and complimented students on their high CCRPI test scores. CCRPI stands for College and Career Ready Performance Index. Combined scores of Dawson County Middle and Riverview Middle placed them in the top 13 percent in the state.
High CCRPI scores demonstrate readiness to take on high school and college course level work.
Pickens County ranked 21st, Forsyth County 15th, and White County No. 3 in the state.