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February 26, 2004 Issue

Is our school funding enough?

Where do local schools and colleges sit in the state's race to cut funds

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Public education in Jefferson and Glascock counties, Sandersville Technical College and across the state is racing down a path to crisis.

Additional funding cuts projected by Gov. Sonny Perdue and the General Assembly may well land them in court later this year with a statewide consortium of school districts. Jefferson County is one of 45 school districts to join the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia. Largely made up of poorer, rural school districts, consortium members say they will not go down without a fight.

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"The crisis in the funding of Georgia's schools is about to become worse unless we take collective action to require the state to fulfill its constitutional obligations," said consortium steering committee member Joseph G. Martin, Jr. "We appreciate the support we have received from Gov. Perdue and have heeded his request to delay any legal action. But if there is not a meaningful response to this crisis in the current session of the General Assembly, local school systems will have to take a stand on behalf of our students."

An update Feb. 19 by consortium board members at the school board office in Louisville addressed a $179 million sum found recently by the state and attributed to a bookkeeping error.

Combined with an additional $50 million proposed to be saved by delaying teacher's raises until January, the state now says school districts might not be faced with a cut as severe as previously thought.

Reduced cuts coming from the new "found money" is not assured and far from being something school districts statewide can count on, said consortium President Al Hunter.

Though Gov. Perdue and the General Assembly are to be commended for their action, the consortium will, nonetheless, maintain its position and litigate the issue if necessary to resolve the funding problem, he said.

The consortium's position was mirrored by Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune.

"I hope litigation is not necessary," he said. "But if it takes litigation, that's what we have to do. The Georgia Constitution says that state has primary responsibility for educating Georgia's children. The state has to uphold this responsibility."

Bethune cited recent reports indicating that metro Atlanta is experiencing job growth and economic growth while much of the remaining portions of Georgia have not recovered from the nationwide recession.

Economic growth readily translates into increases in jobs, income levels and the tax base through property taxes, making the dilemma faced by rural school districts a much greater burden, he said.

"There is a great difference in the property wealth in Jefferson County as compared to Fulton or other metro counties," said Bethune. "Public education in the State of Georgia should not depend on where you are born and where you live."

Cuts in education funding that began with former Gov. Roy Barnes in 2002 continued under the current administration. Gov. Sonny Perdue and General Assembly imposed additional cuts in the 2003-2004 school year and we are projecting another cut of more than five percent for the coming school year beginning in July, said Bethune.

Those cuts combined over three fiscal years will amount to approximately $2.4 million, he said. Such funding cuts loom large given that nearly 80 percent of jobs in the district, including teachers, administrators, bus drivers and food service staff, are mandated and regulated by the state.

In a move to address the state cuts for the current fiscal year, the school board cut approximately $800,000 from its current budget and is contemplating further cuts for next year's budget, said school board Chairman Jimmy Fleming in a recent statement.

The benefit to Jefferson County schools in light of the newly "found money," if forthcoming, would amount to a reduction in cuts of $509,000, said Bethune. That amount would be far from adequate in addressing the shortfall experienced by this and other school systems in recent years, he said.

Other conditions present in Jefferson County itself have contributed to a decrease in funding from the state.

County schools have seen a decrease of 300-400 students countywide over the past eight years, largely due to factors such a decrease in the birth rates, said Bethune. That impacts funding directly since school systems receive funding on a per student basis, he said.

As a result of all factors involved in all areas of school funding, Jefferson County stands to come up short a total of $1.4 million next school year, said Bethune.

The shortfall includes, $800,000 in anticipated state cuts, $400,000 resulting from reduced enrollment and $200,000 from raises for teachers mandated by the state after an equal amount was removed from the district's other budget areas.

Though not a member of the consortium, Glascock County Consolidated School continues to feel the impact of the cuts. Superintendent Jim Holton said public school systems are unlike business organizations because in the lean times businesses make cuts to accommodate decreases in the demand for products or services.

The federal No Child Left Behind program mandates goals that many school systems find difficult to meet in the wake of ongoing funds cuts.

"Georgia's public schools, however, are being asked to increase their services while working with reduced funding," said Holton. "The Glascock County School System suffered state cuts of $52,980 in 2003 and $109,559 in 2004. Our system now braces for a projected cut of $152,566 next year."

Holton said each system has its own individualized needs with limits to the losses it can sustain in a given year and still function properly.

He said the "found money" would reduce next year's cut by $91,771, roughly two-thirds of the anticipated shortfall. Holton said he was taking a wait-and-see posture on whether Glascock would actually benefit from any "found money."

"I have to question whether our state and national leaders are properly informed as to the magnitude of the situation in which local school systems have been placed," he said.

Sandersville Tech President Jack Sterrett expressed his concerns over the funding cuts with Jefferson County commissioners at the Jan. 28 work session.

He said the impact of further state funding cuts will be felt beyond the two and one-half percent cut last year, the two percent cut for the current year and the anticipated seven percent cut beginning in July.

Sandersville Tech's local campus adjacent to the high school is already outgrowing its new facility. Jefferson County schools are set to provide two modular buildings to help contain the increase in students. Yet other cuts being considered by the General Assembly, those directly impacting HOPE scholarship funding to students, such as books and other fees, has the potential to hurt individual students.

The consortium was established four years ago by a small number of school districts. Membership began to grow significantly in 2003, with the Jefferson County school board voting unanimously Nov. 20 to join the group.

The consortium set a target date of June 2004 to begin litigation, if needed.





Deputies running radar

Traffic reports show large increases throughout Jefferson County

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

It took several months to get all the clearances and conduct the required traffic studies, but Jefferson County deputies have begun running radar. The move was initiated in mid-2003 to address the presence of increased vehicles on the road and faster driving habits by the traveling public.

Though used in municipalities, sheriff's deputies began using radar last week for the first time. Sheriff Gary Hutchins said he and those who work the scenes of wrecks have all too often witnessed the result of excessive speed on county roads and highways.

"With speeds increasing over the years and now with four-lane highways in the county our roads can be more dangerous than they used to be," he said. "We're using radar to convince people to drive at safer speeds and we're using it to save lives."

Traffic in Jefferson County has increased significantly in the past few years. Traffic flow counts along U.S. Highway 1 from 1998 and 2002 complied by Georgia Department of Transportation showed a large increase throughout the county.

The difference in the total number of vehicles was much greater in the northern areas of Jefferson County, likely due to the proximity to Augusta and growing presence of the Fall Line Freeway. A total of 6,500 vehicles per day traveled through Wrens in 1998 compared to 14,122 in 2002. Though not as large an increase, other areas along U.S Highway 1 also underwent significant jumps in traffic. The north side of the Louisville bypass saw 9,674 vehicles per day compared to 6,900 in 1998. And in Wadley, 7,343 vehicles traveled in north side of the bypass in 2002 compared to 5,800 in 1998.

The decision to use radar on federal, state and county roads was made in late spring 2003. Putting the equipment to use meant that the required traffic surveys and studies be completed, that signs be posted along roadways and that the necessary certifications be obtained.





Officer was killed 48 years ago this week


By Regina Reagan
Apprentice

Forty-eight years ago, on the 29th of February, a Jefferson County officer was killed in the line of duty.

His name was James "Jim" H. Landrum, a 55 year old night policeman for the city of Louisville.

That night he and a fellow officer, Horace Tanner, had noticed a two-tone green Buick repeatedly driving by. Twice they watched it drive towards the old market house and back, Tanner said.

Both Tanner and Landrum noticed that the Buick had an out of state license plate and that the driver's figure resembled that of a little boy. According to Tanner, he thought that Landrum mentioned that the boy might have been a run away child, so he went to investigate.

What Landrum found was the barrel of an automatic pistol with five fatal bullets that would claim his life.

The story does not end there, nor does it begin in this horrific moment.

The driver of the Buick was not a child; he was instead 24-year-old Gerald P. Beaucaire.

The incident beginning the chain of events that led to Officer Landrum's death, and later the suspect's own demise, occurred on February 27, 1956, at approximately 7:34 p.m. Beaucaire reportedly held up a Shell Gas Station at Washington and Hayer Place in South Braintree, Mass.

He took $100 in cash, threatened the owner's life and then stole a 1954 two-tone green Buick, the same two-tone green Buick that caught Officer Landrum's eyes just two days later.

He made his way to Augusta. He traveled south from Augusta on U.S. #1, where he was stopped in Louisville by Officer Landrum. After shooting the officer five times and leaving him to die, he continued on his southward trail on U.S. #1 until he hit Wadley and turned onto Ga. #78 traveling East.

In no time at all, every police station in the area, including the State Patrol, were made aware of the situation at hand and working hastily on a plan to bring the fleeing car to a halt before any more damage was done or any more innocent lives were lost.

A Midville Police unit attempted to stop the car and its driver just outside the city limits. The chase was heading towards Millen at speeds up to 100 miles per hour and soon the State Patrol got involved. The officers stayed closely behind the Buick, but Beaucaire refused to give up. Up ahead there was a roadblock on Buckhead Creek Bridge. Claude W. Herndon, one of the State Troopers involved in the chase, described the scene in his complete account of the death of Jim Landrum.

"As we approached the roadblock, I could see the flairs, brake lights, smoke from burning tire rubber on the highway, vehicles skidding out of control, sparks from metal grinding on the pavement."

The Buick had rammed into the roadblock and skidded into the bridge railing, wrecking two police cars, knocking down one officer and badly damaging the car and the railing of the bridge. Beaucaire still managed to escape by jumping over the railing and fleeing under the bridge.

By the next morning several hundred officers from as far away as Dublin and Milledgeville, city, county, state and federal officers had joined in the search for the missing suspect. There were also bloodhounds brought in from Louisville and eager civilians who wanted to help in any way possible. In Herndon's story, he said, "I saw one man from Louisville that came to help. We know we are searching for the person that gunned down Jim Landrum."

The support was unimaginable, but Beaucaire was no where to be found.

Beaucaire had entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. John G. Herrington and kidnapped Mrs. Herrington and her 11-year-old son John. In the process, he armed himself with a 22 cal. rifle that the young boy had pulled and fired at him.

In a separate part of town, police were conducting a roadblock and stopped a 1954 Chevrolet driven by Mrs. Herrington with Beaucaire in the back holding the gun to John's head. The car was allowed to pass because of threats to shoot and kill the boy. Beaucaire had pulled the trigger on Officer Landrum and was now threatening to claim another life.

They headed north towards Waynesboro with several police cars following. Richmond County Officers were blocking the bridge at the Burke/Richmond County line, and did not intend on allowing the Chevrolet to enter Richmond County.

After County Policeman Charlie Powell fired his rifle, hitting one of the rear tires of the Chevrolet, it skidded, made contact with a car not involved in the chase and came to a stop at the edge of a wooded area. Officers helped Mrs. Herrington out from underneath the steering wheel and removed her from the car while John was being pulled out of the car by the suspect and dragged into the woods, still holding the gun forcibly to the boy's head.

Beaucaire yelled to the officers, "Get back, get back or the kid will get it." Officers did hold their fire for fear of missing their mark or of Beaucaire shooting first. Then something happened; Beaucaire backed into a scrub oak and lost his footing, falling backwards and loosing grip of the boy. John then ran to safety and Beaucaire violently waved his gun in the air, first pointing at one officer and then at another.

Forty bullets, as fatal as the five that had claimed Officer Landrum's life just days before, now made their way towards Beaucaire. As they struck him, one after the other, he slowly dropped to his knees and fell backwards onto the hard, cold ground. At 8:58 p.m. on March 1 the nightmare had finally come to an end.

Or had it? Back in Louisville and all over the country, as far as Pennsylvania, the news of the events were slowly making their way to all of Officer Landrum's friends and family. The news reached some sooner than others. Jane Cofer, the grandmother of now Stapleton resident Helen Landrum, Officer Landrum's daughter-in-law, had actually witnessed the incident from inside her very own house peering outside a window. The pain of that awful news was deep and scarred all whom it touched. Friends and family mourned for the loss of their loved one. For fellow officers it was a chilling reminder of the risks involved in their everyday routines, but even more chilling was the fact that their friend and co-worker would not return to work that following day or the next or ever again.

"It was a terrible tragedy for Louisville, Jefferson County and the family," Helen explained. "I don't think we in Louisville should forget an officer who gave his life out there, on the streets, for the town and his family." She continued after a brief pause, "So often people do."

The anniversary of Officer Landrum's death may only come around every four years, but the memory of the person and the tragedy that took his life is something that those involved have been forced to live with every day.





Dance lessons, shag style

Hospital Wellness Center offers shag dance lessons


By Regina Reagan
Apprentice

Have you ever wanted to "add more fun to your life, meet new friends and enjoy great music?"

This is exactly what instructors Joe and Kaye Tutt offer in their group and private shag lessons. In fact, these exact words are printed on Mr. Tutt's very own business card.

Mr. Tutt's great enthusiasm for the dance began a little over 10 years ago with his first lesson.

"Kaye always loved to dance, but I didn't get into it until I took lessons in '91," he said. But, since then, he has had a fascination with the dance and the music.

They did not start teaching lessons in Augusta until about a year and a half ago. Not too long after that, in March of 2003, they began to visit the Wellness Center in Louisville once a week to provide a set of six-week lessons. The fifth set of these six-week lessons is going on right now. The class of 27, which is actually a little over the average of 20-25 people per class, is in its fifth week.

The class usually meets every Tuesday from 7-8 o'clock in the evening. There they improve on their skills from previous lessons and add new steps and moves into the mix.

The music that they dance to at these lessons is called "beach music." When you think of "beach music," artists like the Beach Boys may pop into your head, but the music actually displays a very heavy R & B flavor. Mr. Tutt told the story behind the so-called beach music.

"Beach Music is really rhythm and blues," he said. "Back in the early days, well-to-do white kids could not listen to that type of music because of their parents. The only place they could listen to it was on the beaches, so kids would go to the beach and listen to it and call it beach music, and that's where that term came from.

"I would love to see more young folks. That's who's going to keep it alive, not my generation," Mr. Tutt added.

In the class right now there are only two teens, but maybe that will all change with the next class.

The whole idea behind shag is the music, the people and the dance itself. "Any group of shaggers is very friendly." Mr. Tutt explained, "They love to hug; even the guys will go up to each other and hug. It's just a great atmosphere."

It's not hard to become one of these future "shaggers." According to Mr. Tutt, shag is very easy to learn.

He does advise that anyone who has never been involved in shag lessons start from the very beginning on lesson one. The current lesson in Louisville is not the first lesson to be offered nor will it be the last.

Anyone interested in attending future lessons, having fun and learning a little something new in the process, can contact Donna Rogers, the organizer, at (478) 625-7000.

The group lessons that are held at the Wellness Center are $40 per person for the entire six-week session. Private lessons are $30 for one person per hour or $50 per couple per hour. For more information on the private lessons or the group lessons in Augusta, call Mr. Tutt at (706) 793-4564.


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