BOE announces legislative priorities for 2016

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

The Henry County Board of Education, as is the case nearly every year, has announced its legislative priorities for 2016 - the things the board would like to see advanced in the Georgia General Assembly over the next few months during its next session, which begins this month.

The priority list was formally approved unanimously at the December meeting. As usual, most of the school board’s concerns are financial.

Labeling one action item “Maximize Available Funding for Schools,” the school system noted that the FY2016 state austerity reduction comes out to $11.6 million.

According to a statement from the school board, increased funding can help reduce class sizes; fully restore programs affected by budget cuts; update instructional technology, equipment, and materials; better manage the rising employer costs of healthcare insurance; attract and retain high-quality instructional personnel; and balance its budget without using fund reserves.

The board has also asked that “fiscal impact statements” be required on new legislation.

“Given the limited state and local funding available for public schools and the deep cuts to school budgets in recent years, we urge legislators to consider the financial burden on local school districts when adopting new legislation,” the board stated.

On the subject of employee healthcare costs, the district has asked that revisions be made to the State Health Benefit Plan “to ensure workforce stability as it pertains to employer cost and the impact on certified and classified personnel.”

The school board expressed concern regarding funding for capital projects, such as school construction and the purchase of buses, saying that the local economy has not yet fully recovered and E-SPLOST revenue has been lower than expected.

“We urge legislators to continue funding the State Capital Outlay Program at maximum levels and to continue the State Bond Program for the purchase of school buses,” the board stated. “Also, we urge legislators and the State Board of Education to modify existing Capital Outlay regulations to provide districts greater flexibility for accessing earned funds.”

The school system is seeking state approval and funding to construct the second building on the Henry County campus of Southern Crescent Technical College. “Expansion of the Henry campus will help us increase Move on When Ready and career pathway opportunities for our high school students, and will advance workforce development for the economic prosperity of our county and region.”

Pointing out that the state currently provides no QBE funding to support local districts’ technology needs, the school board asked legislators “to devise strategies for supporting districts in their efforts to build a solid infrastructure for the effective use of digital tools and resources.”

Two items on the priority list not directly related to funding were requests to adjust teacher evaluation requirements and provide flexibility for administering state assessments. The school board wants the state to make revisions to the teacher evaluation model by giving flexibility for the number of teacher observations, and by reducing the percentage of the overall teacher effectiveness score based on student performance. The board also wants flexibility to administer end-of-grade assessments in grades 3-8 at multiple times throughout the school year based on student readiness, as is already to the case in grades 9-12.