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School system joins equalization suit push

Push has come to shove for the McDuffie County school system and its fight for more equitable state education funding.

McDuffie County Superintendent of Schools Mark Petersen said at a Board of Education meeting last week that a lawsuit is about to be filed against the state of Georgia on behalf of the Consortium for Adequate School Funding, a group of 52 Georgia school systems aimed at changing the way the state funds education.

"A function of a child's education should not be aware of where he lives," he said.

Many of the participating school systems, including McDuffie, have been hit with millions of dollars in funding cutbacks over the past few years.

The state does have a system in place where it provides additional money to poorer school districts in the form of equalization funding, but school districts that those dollars aren't nearly enough to level the playing field.

"There has been so much that's the state's responsibility that has been shifted locally, and that in itself is inadequate," said Dr. Petersen. "There's an amount we have to pay that is equal to what the richer school systems have to pay, say, in construction. We have to pay the same as Rockdale County in Atlanta, Fulton County. That's a problem right there."

Dr. Petersen also said that school systems have had to deal with unfunded mandates passed down from the state level.

"They've taken away, for our school system, $2 million in the last three years, and then they say that we have to give teachers a pay raise. It doesn't make any sense. ... I'm for pay raises like everybody else, but look at the cost for taxpayers," he said.

The McDuffie County school system has lost out on approximately $2.2 of state funding over the past three years. Cuts originally included equalization dollars as well, but the Consortium reversed that aspect of the cuts earlier this year. Dr. Petersen said that reversal shows how powerful the group can be.

"That in itself talks about the strength of the Consortium," he said. "We've been told by the legislators themselves that the only way they're going to change the funding formula to provide funding adequacy for our boys and girls is through a lawsuit."

Web posted on Thursday, July 15, 2004

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