Another year, another state budget, and once again the elementary foreign language program has no funding.
Even though the latest round of funding from the 2006 legislative session required schools to apply for a three-year grant, the money for year two (or three) isn't in the budget proposal Gov. Sonny Perdue sent to the state Legislature this past week.
Not to worry, says state Rep. Ben Harbin, whose Evans district includes Stevens Creek Elementary, the only Columbia County school participating in the program.
That school (my wife is its principal) operates a K-5 Spanish program with funds from the state grant, along with county funding and lots of money from generous parents. Keeping the program is an annual struggle, with a different challenge each year to getting funding renewed.
This time, Harbin shrugs off the governor's omission. The money will be put back in to save the highly regarded program, Harbin says. He's chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, so the pledge carries a lot of weight.
What's perhaps more puzzling these days, though, is that money already is there for Columbia County's long-anticipated Augusta Technical College satellite campus - yet there's still nothing to show for it. What's the holdup?
Harbin wonders the same thing. Asked about the stalled project this past week, he was prompted to ask some questions of his own.
The folks from the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education quickly answered Harbin's inquiry. They said plans for the campus should be ready within 30 days, and that the project will go out for bids after that.
Presumably, ground-breaking could be late spring or early summer.
It's about time. The project has bounced around for about eight years, ever since the county's Development Authority donated 35 acres for the campus. A year and a half ago, Gov. Sonny Perdue released $4.5 million in funding for the project.
"Then money is done, the bonds have been sold - we just need a ground-breaking," Harbin says.
The county school system decided the new high school near Grovetown won't be a technical magnet school, so that makes construction of the Augusta Tech campus that much more important.
Speaking of that new high school, the county's recent school enrollment projections show it can't get here soon enough.
It looks like Greenbrier High School's population next year will surpass 2,100 students, and could be eligible the next year to bump up into class AAAAA for sports. If that happened, and Evans and Lakeside stayed in AAAA, the county's best sports rivalries would be kaput for a while.
The competitive classes are based on a percentage rather than raw numbers; in other words, something like the top 5 percent of the state's biggest schools are in the highest classification, and on down the line. If the big schools also continue to grow, the classes here might remain unchanged.
Of course, the new high school also could pull enough students away from the other schools that all of them could be closer in size. They could then stay in the same class, keeping those local rivalries going.
For the moment, the biggest local rivalry is Evans vs. Greenbrier in basketball. What better setup can their be for this Friday's game than one win for the Wolfpack, one win for the Knights, and a season-making tie-breaker on Friday?
Word has it that Greenbrier wanted the game moved to a bigger, neutral site, such as the Augusta State University gym. But Evans, which won at Greenbrier's gym, wasn't about to give up home-court advantage Friday.
This ought to be a good one. And it's not even baseball season yet.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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