The state has been increasing its funding of public education for the past five years, Parsons said.
School board members met with seven of the county’s 21-person legislative delegation Wednesday to present their “wish lists” for the coming legislative session that begins Jan. 13.
Parsons expressed frustration over the “unfair criticism” from some school board members, who have blamed the state for their lack of funding.
What were the numbers?
Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is projecting a $79 million budget shortfall for the 2014-15 school year.
“We are on a two-legged school budget for funding,” Hinojosa told lawmakers.
State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), delegation chairman, replied that, in fact, the state had increased its funding toward schools every year for the last five years, and that it was inaccurate to think otherwise.
Parsons said he was upset school board members would criticize them for not funding the school district adequately.
“There’s been a lot of criticism, and it hasn’t been fair,” he said.
School board member Scott Sweeney recently called on parents to threaten Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-election if Deal doesn’t provide the system with more revenue.
Shift in revenues
The nation’s recession has hit the state hard, lawmakers say.
Cuts have been made across the state in order for it to balance its budget, said state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), who is running to become state school superintendent.
“Revenue isn’t coming in, that means we can’t meet our obligations,” Morgan said.
Other departments, including the Departments of Labor, Corrections and Public Health, have seen 10 to 12 percent cuts each year, and education funding has comparatively seen much less of a hit.
“Georgians have faced tough times, but there is a commitment in the Legislature to education,” Morgan said.
Parsons agreed. While budget cuts were unfortunate, education remained a top priority for lawmakers.
“I wish we didn’t have to make those cuts, but we did,” Parsons said. “If we had fully funded education during these past years, according to what the budget office tells me, we would have literally shut down about 30 smaller agencies. There just wouldn’t have been any money there for them if we had fully funded education.”
Parsons said education funds had been cut about 8 percent during the recession, while the state’s revenue had dropped by 25 percent.
Parsons said he understood why the board members were bouncing the budget issues onto lawmakers.
“I think it’s always easy to try and deflect problems like that. I’m not going to point any fingers,” he said.
Telling parents to write to members of the Cobb Delegation and Gov. Nathan Deal wasn’t necessarily an effective way to change the budget realities, said Parsons.
“Gov. Deal cares very deeply about education in the state, and it doesn’t set well with me when I hear people in the county blame him for the budget cuts and exaggerating the amount of budget cuts we’ve had,” Parsons said.
Official: Former gov. didn’t value education
Former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who served from 2003 to 2011, began slashing education funding in his first legislative session in 2003.
Years before the country’s financial crash, Perdue authorized the cuts in education, which began a series of annual decreases in education funding which have withheld nearly $7 billion from state schools, said Tim Callahan, the spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest education group.
“We’ve really felt that the real intent was for the state to roll back their commitment to education and ask the locals to make up the difference,” he said, “There wasn’t any particular austerity.”
Perdue’s lack of commitment, Callahan said, has hurt students and teachers across the state.
“It’s wreaked havoc on our system,” he said.
After the forum, the Cobb Delegation retreated to what Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn called an “invitation only” affair with school board members, business people and county commissioners at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
Scamihorn said about 80 people discussed information on the district’s school budget, and brainstormed further ways to trim spending.
“I embraced his comments,” Scamihorn said of Parsons.
He said the board members would be focusing on working together with lawmakers, to get everyone up to speed on the realities of the school district’s budget.
“We are trying to find ways to find money and cut money, but it still isn’t enough. We are all in this together and we need to keep looking,” he said.