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Leaders of 3 school communities ask for support from politicians

LAWRENCEVILLE - The leaders of three school communities asked state legislators Monday to help their organizations provide quality education in Gwinnett County.

Georgia Gwinnett College President Daniel Kaufman said his college, Gwinnett Technical College and Gwinnett County Public Schools are "teammates" and support from the delegation has built a great education system in the county.

Kaufman thanked the delegates for their support of the college, and he asked legislators to support the University System of Georgia's budget request and any line item that Georgia Gwinnett College may have in the budget.

"You have been so incredibly supportive of Georgia Gwinnett College," he said. "I always appreciate the opportunity to update you about your college. This college belongs to the community and exists to serve the community."

Gwinnett Tech President Sharon Rigsby Bartels asked for support of a project she said is critically needed in the community - construction of a life sciences building on her campus.

The technical college had to turn away 92 percent of the people interested in studying health science, because Gwinnett Tech does not have adequate space for the program, she said.

"We're turning away 6,500 people a year who want to be in the health sciences program," Bartels said. "The project is not on the governor's list for DTAE (Department of Technical and Adult Education) projects. We're hoping it will get back on the list next year."

Gwinnett Tech's inability to educate more people in health sciences is also hurting the work force. Merck and Novartis both decided against locating along the Ga. Highway 316 corridor because they thought there weren't enough educated and skilled people in Gwinnett to meet their needs, Bartels said.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the legislators the capital outlay money the district receives from the state helped them to open three new schools and one replacement facility this year. He encouraged the delegates to continue providing $100 million for construction projects to fast growing school systems.

Wilbanks also told the state officials he and the Board of Education are opposed to any changes in the tax code that would affect their ability to generate local revenue.

"We continue to encourage you to support the ability of the local board to generate funds to operate services," Wilbanks told the delegates. "We encourage you to look long and hard at any tax code that affects the ability of the local board to raise revenue."

Wilbanks said he does not feel House Speaker Glenn Richardson's proposal to revise the tax code - known as the GREAT plan, or Georgia's Repeal of Every Ad Valorem Tax plan - is in the best interest of local government or local control.

The superintendent of the state's largest school district also encouraged the legislators to support the work of the Governor's Education Finance Task Force, which is developing a proposal that would allow school districts to choose one of five funding formulas.

The current funding formula, the Quality Basic Education Act, does not provide enough money for school systems to pay for state mandates, Wilbanks said. Under the proposed formula, Investing in Educational Excellence, school districts would develop a contract with the state, and those districts that did not fulfill their contracts could face consequences.