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Governor signs budget bill at GSU

Contains money for ROTC building, faculty raises

Governor signs budget bill at GSU

Governor signs budget bill at GSU

Gov. Nathan Deal signs the 2015 state...

Somewhere in the $20.8 billion state budget Gov. Nathan Deal signed Monday at Georgia Southern University are the first faculty pay increase in more than five years and $9.5 million to build a new GSU military science building.

Deal ceremonially signed the budget in front of the university's Marvin Pittman Administration Building. He was going around the state highlighting some of the things the state government will be able to spend money on in fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1.

"This year, for the first time since I became governor less than 3½ years ago, we have had revenue to allow us to do some extra things that we had not been able to do previously," Deal said.

With this budget, the state is adding $514.3 million to its Quality Basic Education funding for kindergarten through 12th grade.

"Although we had never cut funding during the time that I've been governor for K-through-12 education — we had given modest increases every year — this year we were able to put over a half billion new dollars into K-through-12 education," Deal said

However, the state had previously imposed continuing cuts in enrollment-based QBE funding, which has not been fully restored. Earlier this year when he proposed what amounts to a partial restoration, Deal called for the money to be used to eliminate furlough days and give teachers' raises.

Exactly what school systems do with it is up to local boards and superintendents, who are putting the money to good use, the governor said Monday.

"In most instances they are being able to eliminate furlough days, to restore education to 180 days, and in some cases have money for very deserved raises for teachers," Deal said.

The budget also funds 100 percent of tuition at Georgia's technical colleges for anyone who pursues a degree in seven fields "where we currently have job openings and we don't have the people to fill them," he announced. The areas are welding, diesel mechanics, practical nursing, long-distance truck driving, health information, health technology and general information technology.

HOPE Grants and HOPE Scholarships will increase by 3 percent for students at both Technical College System and University System schools.

Specific to Ogeechee Technical College, the budget provides $2.3 million from state bonds for equipment for the planned new OTC Natural Resources Building, Deal announced.

The $9.5 million for the GSU Military Science Building will also come from state bond sales. The new building measuring 30,000 square feet will replace a 10,000-square-foot temporary building that the university's Army-affiliated Reserve Officer Training Corps program has occupied for nearly a decade.

Since its inception in 1980, the Georgia Southern ROTC program has repeatedly moved around campus. It has grown by about 60 cadets in the past five years, to a total of 280 today, including 198 on the GSU campus, military science instructor Lt. Col. Gary Morea said in an interview. The other cadets are students of Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah State University and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

"To be honest we're happy with anything we get, but having a first-class facility like the one they plan to build for us really tells us a lot about what they think of us. ..." Morea said. "It showcases us as a real first-class program and it's a great accolade for all of the hard work the cadets have put forward up to this point."

Morea, who accompanied a number of the cadets to the signing ceremony, said he hopes that construction will begin this fall, but he had no definite timeline for when it may be completed.

Other regional, bond-funded items Deal mentioned included $1.48 million for a new health services library at Southeastern Technical College and $1 million to repair a rail line in Screven County. The rail line, used for shipping agricultural products, has been out of service since December 2013, he said.

Deal also listed $600,000 for three new cottages at Gordonia Alatamaha State Park in Reidsville and $600,000 for an office and group shelter at George L. Smith State Park in Twin City.

Asked which aspects of the budget are most important for Georgia Southern University, GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel mentioned the Military Science Building, calling it "desperately needed."

But he also noted that the state is funding the first pay increase in about six years for university faculty and staff.

"In a downturned economy like we've been through the past three or four years, the confidence I think that the delegation and the governor have in the future, of the economy increasing, is reflected in the budget, so we're very excited about it, very grateful and feel very positive," Keel said.

The raises average about 2 percent, with individual amounts based on merit, he said.

"It was a start," Keel said. "We've got a long way to go, I think, to get our faculty and staff at a pay scale where they need to be, we certainly recognize that. Salary compression is big issue for us and all universities in the state, but the fact that we're able to give a pay increase at all I think is a very good sign."

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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