The meeting comes as lawmakers head back to Atlanta with the unenviable task of cutting between $1 million and $1.5 billion from the state budget.
Saturday’s forum was organized to emphasize the strides that have been made in local schools — with a message to legislators that budget cuts will put that progress in jeopardy.
Jim Barrett, president of the Walker County Association of Educators, organized the meeting.
Barrett expressed concern over losing local control of school budgets, which could be affected by the fed-eral “Race to the Top” program.
“I hope that the paradigm that we are taking to Atlanta is that this is an investment,” Barrett said regarding the progress of children around the state.
Neal was the only local legislator able to attend Saturday’s meeting. He gave a grim forecast of the state budget for the next few years.
“We could eliminate thirty-eight of the fifty (Georgia governmental) agencies and only have half of the money that needs to be cut (from the budget),” Neal said.
Neal has worked on the education subcommittee of the House appropriations committee.
He also has two daughters who work at Walker County schools. Jessica Woods teaches ninth-grade English at Ridge-land High and Brittney Yarbrough is a parapro at Cherokee Ridge Elementary.
Neal was a substitute teacher and bus driver for 13 years. He has fought against some of the previous funding cuts, such as a bill last year that could have reduced the school year to from 180 days to 170 days, among other meas-ures aimed at cutting funds from schools for tax breaks.
Several teachers, such as Shawn Turner of Rock Spring Elementary, expressed concerns about teachers increas-ingly have to pay for supplies for their students and classrooms.
“Policemen don’t go out and buy bullets. Garbage workers don’t go out and buy garbage bags,” Turner said.
Last year, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s $100 classroom supply card, nicknamed “Sonny Money,” was eliminated due to budget constraints.
Legislators will be seeking a remedy to the state budget shortfall. Neal said the initial thinking is for an eight percent cut for other agencies, but Neal believes education cuts would be minimized.
Year-to-date, the state budget revenue shortfall is 13.7 percent, according to Neal.
Walker county teachers have already experienced two furlough days, which was only achieved by a handful of school systems statewide, with most having to furlough for three days.
While furlough days seem a possible solution to shore up the current year’s budget while school is in, it’s second semester.
Neal expressed further concern for the next few years, as federal stimulus dollars will end in 2012, and he fore-casts more budget cuts even if the economy begins to show minimal growth.
The 38 agencies Neal mentioned comprise only four percent of the state budget, according to Neal.
Georgia had $1.6 billion in reserve for budget shortfalls, but legislators have had to nearly drain the funds dur-ing the recession. Neal anticipates only a mere $35 million left in reserves following this year’s budget.
Neal unveiled a package of bills that, if passed, could benefit Walker County and Chickamauga school systems. (House Bills 651, 904, 905, 906, 907, 908, 910)
House Bill 904 deals with equalization money given to poorer school districts. Under the bill Walker County and Chickamauga schools would receive 95 percent of the equalization funding, which had dwindled down to 60 percent funding due to budget cuts in recent years. However, it would only last until July 2013 in its current form.
House Bill 907 would provide a waiver for middle schools, like LaFayette Middle, which must separate the stu-dents among two buildings. Present law requires them to be under the same building, or loose funding.