When Columbia County school officials met with members of the county's legislative delegation last week, several topics were on the table.
The state's budget shortfall looms large, of course. And school officials have lots of complaints about the sometimes irrational restraints of state mandates.
The overall theme from school officials at the pre-legislative session, though, boils down to this: Leave us alone, and let us do our jobs.
Such sentiment might get better traction than ever in the coming session, which begins Jan. 10. Lawmakers and Gov.-Elect Nathan Deal have already made it clear that the doom and gloom from the past couple of years, with significant cuts to all state budgets likely will get worse. Tough times calls for creativity in use of scarce funding.
That's especially important regarding education budgets. School trustees are smart enough to know they won't be spared further pain. But they're also intelligent enough to know that sometimes there are better ways to spend the money they get from the state, if only the state would let them.
For example, local officials want lawmakers to back away from any notion of setting a uniform, statewide calendar for schools. What works in rural south Georgia might not be best for suburban Columbia County.
They also want the state to allow alternatives to the "One Diploma," an ill-advised program that in essence considers every high school student to be on a college prep track.
That concept not only is illogical, it's costly - wasting college-prep money on students who would be better served in vocational courses, while clamping down so tightly on diploma requirements that precious little time is left for those students to participate in vocational classes. That's an even bigger issue for Columbia County, which hopes to have a close working relationship with the new Augusta Tech campus opening soon in Grovetown.
"We're going to lose children in education if we don't give them the opportunity to study what they want to study," says Superintendent Charles Nagle.
Fortunately, there's every reason to believe Columbia County should have a significant seat at the table when these type of decisions are made. State Rep. Ben Harbin continues to chair the House Appropriations Committee. And now state Sen. Bill Jackson - who got his political start 40 years ago as a member of the county's school board - has been appointed one of Gov. Deal's floor leaders in the Senate. That's a lot of heft.
Certainly, in tough fiscal times, asking for more money is unrealistic. But asking for fewer bureaucratic controls just makes good sense.
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