VALDOSTA -- State budget cuts may force one school system to turn to property owners for additional financial support.

Valdosta City School System Finance Director Dr. Bill Cason recommended the Valdosta Board of Education approve a millage rate increase for the 2005-06 fiscal year, which begins July 1. He said a single mill would add a little more than $1 million to locally generated revenue and help offset an approximately $1.6 million state austerity reduction.

"If state leaders would give us what they owe us, we would not have to consider raising the millage rate," said Dr. Neil Meyers, District 5.

During the 2004-05 fiscal year, the Valdosta Board of Education voted to increase the millage rate by 1.69 mills, going from 12.29 mills to 13.98 mills. Again, it was done to alleviate the financial strain associated with state cuts totaling another $1.6 million.

"Basically, we are caught between a rock and a hard place," said Warren Lee, District 3, vice chairman. "We can only hope the taxpayers understand."

At the beginning of the 2003-04 academic year, the Valdosta City School System was cut $600,000-plus. This was followed by a mid-year cut of $700,000, for a total of more than $1.3 million. The year prior to that, state cuts amounted to $651,662.

Cason said the Valdosta Board of Education was not alone in its fight to educate the children of the Azalea City with insufficient funds. He said other area boards of education are planning to increase millage rates by an average of 1 to 2 mills in the coming days as well.

Even with a millage rate increase, Cason said the Valdosta Board of Education will have to use about $376,000 from its savings account to balance the budget. He was unable to offer another solution because over the past two to three years services had been cut to the "point where it hurts already."

Without the additional funds, the Valdosta Board of Education's $42.4 million in local, state, and federal revenue will not be enough to pay the $43.8 million in expenditures associated with effectively operating the Valdosta City School System over the next 12 months.

The Valdosta City School System's proposed budget includes a 2 percent salary increase ($601,691.16); the purchase of additional textbooks due to a population growth ($379,445.97); five teachers, an administrative assistant, and transportation for the new Performance Learning Center ($276,576.95); four teachers and three paraprofessionals to meet maximum class size mandates in grades kindergarten through five ($223,564); a 15 percent increase in electricity costs due to a rate hike and opening of new J.L. Lomax Elementary School ($252,712.85); a half-time assistant principal and guidance counselor at W.G. Nunn Elementary School ($60,000); two teachers for the expanded alternative school program, which will be relocated to the old Lomax-Pinevale Elementary School campus ($93,214); and two school resource officers ($79,348).

Public hearings on the proposed millage rate increase will be announced in The Valdosta Daily Times.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call (229) 244-3400, ext. 255.

VALDOSTA -- A few rule breakers may lead to the loss of cellular telephone privileges recently granted to city students at parents' request.

In March 2004, the Valdosta Board of Education voted 7-2 in favor of a new Use of Electronic Devices by Students policy. It afforded students at Valdosta Middle School, J.L. Newbern Middle School and Valdosta High School the right to have cellular telephones, pagers, compact disc players and similar devices in their possession on campus.

In May, the School Council at Valdosta Middle School discussed the Valdosta City School System's policy. Its members recently requested the Board of Education revisit the policy.

"The Valdosta Board of Education certainly appreciates your interest in this matter and will review your request in the near future along with a number of other ... policies," Superintendent Sam Allen stated in a memorandum to Principal Martin Roesch and members of the council. "The board takes very seriously the requests that are made by school councils and will review your request at the appropriate time."

Council members informed the board in writing that Valdosta Middle School administrators had handled 150-plus office referrals for inappropriate use of electronic devices, a figure that does not reflect the number of reported thefts. There were also numerous incidences of cellular telephone usage during classroom instruction time.

Judge O. Wayne Ellerbee with the Lowndes County Juvenile Court stated in a letter to Allen that he has dealt with several cases of theft of cellular telephones, fights over the ownership of cellular telephones, making telephone calls to 911, and instances of illegal drug activity by use of cellular telephones on school property during the past year. Additionally, he said he has learned of students using text messaging services to assist others taking exams and communicate with others during school hours.

"It is indeed a shame that a small number of students have chosen to violate this policy to the point that the privilege is about to be revoked," Allen further stated in his response.

The Valdosta Board of Education's approval of its Use of Electronic Devices by Students policy was provided for under Official Code of Georgia Annotated Section 20-2-1183. State law gives local boards of education the power to permit the possession of electronic communication devices by students in school except during classroom instructional time.

J.L. Newbern Middle School Principal Artrice Haugabrook has reported similar policy infractions. Brett Stanton, principal of Valdosta High School, said he has not heard anything negative about the policy, leading Roesch to speculate that it might be a maturity issue.

A review of the Use of Electronic Devices by Students policy will be conducted during a special work session and called meeting of the Valdosta Board of Education at 7 p.m. Monday, according to an agenda received Tuesday afternoon.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call (229) 244-3400, ext. 255.

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