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Schools talk needs with legislators

SUWANEE - Officials from Gwinnett County Public Schools, Gwinnett Technical College and Georgia Gwinnett College on Tuesday presented their legislative priorities and needs to state representatives during the Gwinnett Board of Education's Annual Legislative Breakfast.

With an audience that included state Reps. Brooks Coleman, Pedro Marin, Bobby Reese, Hugh Floyd, Brian Thomas, Michael Coan and Donna Sheldon, school officials asked the legislators to remember Gwinnett County's needs when they make decisions about bills.

"I do believe the education of our children is the most important human endeavor of our time," said Dr. Robert McClure, the chairman of the Gwinnett Board of Education.

Coleman, the chairman of the Education

Committee, said such communication is critical. Legislators have yet to see the budget they will be working with, but "it's good to know what they're wanting us to look at."

GCPS: Increased flexibility

Gwinnett Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said his school system has made accountability a priority for years.

The school system, he said, would like the flexibility to govern itself rather than be forced to comply with state mandates.

For instance, to comply with state requirements to reduce class sizes in grades nine through 12, GCPS would have to spend $15.3 million, Wilbanks said.

If the state wants to issue new mandates, Wilbanks asked that the state consider funding the mandates.

Coleman agreed that school systems should have the flexibility to govern themselves.

"School board members are elected to run the schools; it's not our job to run school systems," Coleman said. "I don't care how big classes are ... if you produce. If you don't produce, the state needs to come in and manage (the school system)."

Wilbanks also asked the legislators to consider the needs of school systems experiencing exceptional growth.

Capital outlay funding is given to school systems experiencing exceptional growth and for school systems serving a low-wealth area, but that funding is scheduled to end in 2009. Wilbanks asked the legislators to continue to consider the needs of school systems experiencing fast growth.

The school system's complete legislative program will be available on the Internet at www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us, GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach said.

Gwinnett Tech:

Life Sciences Building

Although the funding for Gwinnett Technical College's Life Sciences Building was at the top of the list for major projects this year, it's actually seventh in line on the Department of Technical and Adult Education's capital outlay list - following six projects from last year that were not funded.

Gwinnett Technical College Sharon J. Rigsby told the legislators she thinks "there's a very good chance of having (the Life Sciences Building) funding (this year) with your help."

Gwinnett Tech needs the building because the number of students interested in pursuing health science and bioscience programs is much larger that the number of students the college can serve, Rigsby said. Of the students who applied last year, Gwinnett Tech was able to serve 29 percent of them.

The technical college would also like to replace Building 100's 22-year-old roof, Rigsby said.

The college would also like legislators to consider funding the replacement of obsolete equipment. The state has funded that in the past, but there were no such allocations for fiscal years 2006 or 2007, Rigsby said.

Legislators should consider granting $20 million, to be shared among the state's 34 technical colleges, she said.

GGC: A new library

Georgia Gwinnett President Daniel J. Kaufman said the college has three priorities.

"The first priority is the library," Kaufman said. "The second priority is the library, and the third priority is the library."

Without the library, the college cannot become accredited, and Kaufman said the college wants to pursue accreditation as quickly as possible so it can continue to add degree programs and so students can receive federal financial aid.

"Libraries are not warehouses of books," Kaufman said. "They are learning centers. ... Without the library learning center, Georgia Gwinnett College will not be accredited."

To be accredited, the college must have more than a building. Kaufman said the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will also expect the college to have a collection of books in the library.

Fair funding for public health

Gwinnett Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Louise Radloff, who is also the Gwinnett County Board of Public Health chairwoman, and Gwinnett Board of Health Director Dr. Lloyd M. Hofer also asked the legislators to consider at the amount of money allocated per county resident for public health.

Although Gwinnett County has the state's second largest population, its per capita health care allocation is the state's second lowest, according to data published by the health department.

For fiscal year 2007, Gwinnett County was granted $2.35 per resident. As of July 2005, the county had 726,273 residents.

Other metro Atlanta counties receive much more money. Fulton County was granted $7.60 per resident, and its population as of July 2005 was 915,623. DeKalb County gets $7.34 per resident, and its population as of July 2005 was 677,959.

Gwinnett County also received fewer dollars per resident for public health in fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

State Rep. Donna Sheldon said a new funding formula is being developed, but it could take a couple of years before a new formula takes effect.