Leaders from four educational entities met Wednesday for a round table discussion, hosted by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce and Ogeechee Technical College.
Dr. Lewis Holloway, Bulloch County School Superintendent; Dr. Brooks Keel, Georgia Southern University president; Ogeechee Technical College President Dr. Dawn Cartee and Dr. John Black, president of East Georgia College all shared information about their respective schools, and fielded questions from the audience afterward.
Cartee drew the first slot to speak to the crowd and offered to provide tours of the college after the luncheon. She shared plans for a new addition to the OTC Health Sciences building, to house the college’s expanded radiological program. The addition will include “state of the art chemical and biology labs and a lecture hall,” she said. “Plans are in the works with an architect.”
Ogeechee Technical College also has the “only public funeral services program in Georgia,” and students work with a patient transport company and East Georgia Regional Medical Center to learn about patient transportation, she said. Also, “We are the only technical college in the state that uses human cadavers “in the LPN, surgical tech and other programs.
OTC has seen increased enrollment, and pulls 1,100 students from counties outside Bulloch, Candler and Evans counties. The college boasts of a 71 percent retention rate, a 63 percent graduation rate and a 97 percent graduate placement rate, she said.
Keel told the group “Georgia Southern is … on the move.” This year’s enrollment is record, with about 20,000 students attending classes this fall. He spoke about the university’s focus on student success through a strategic teaching plan and said the university has grown to much more than a local university.
“Georgia Southern is no longer just a Bulloch County university,” he said. “Roughly 51 percent of our students come from Atlanta.” And 75 percent of GSU students listed the university as their first choice when selecting where they would attend, he said.
Holloway said local grade school enrollment is up – around 9,560 students. He spoke about the severe budget cuts by the state, totaling a loss of $7 million to the school system.
“Trying to overcome these cuts has been steadily challenging,” he said. Furloughs, program cuts, and eliminating teaching positions through attrition and otherwise has helped meet needs, but another 50 teaching positions – above the 50 that have already been cut – will be necessary, he said.
Even so, the school system still had to ask for a tax increase by a half mil, which equals $20 for a $100,000 piece of property, he said. Losing the teachers “will be a challenge,” but Bulloch County still meets student-teacher ratio requirements, he said.
School construction is paid by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), and Holloway spoke about the new elementary schools – Julia P. Bryant and Sallie Zetterower – as well as the new Portal Middle High School. Julia P. Bryant and Portal schools are open, and construction will be completed at Sallie Zetterower by January, he said.
Exciting times are ahead for East Georgia College, Black said when it was his turn to speak. He talked about the new EGC building under construction on U.S. 3021 South, across from OTC’s campus.
East Georgia students desire the “Statesboro experience,” which is why EGC began holding classes at GSU in the mid 1990’s, he said. The enrollment has grown “dramatically,” from 197 students the first year to “close to 1,900 students now,” he said.
“We have a very unique opportunity here in Bulloch County,” he said. “We have the chance to do something I don’t think anyone else can do,” referring to a partnership and cooperation between OTC, EGC, GSU and the Bulloch County school system. “We can do special things in Bulloch County.”
After each school leader had a chance to share the news about his or her school, Dr. Charles Webb, mediator for the forum, asked questions that were taken from cards passed forward from the audience.
One question for Cartee was “If money was not an issue, what would be three of your most important expenditures?”
Cartee answered “That there not be a student withdraw from college because he cannot afford textbooks; to give our teachers a big honking raise, and to not be teaching in trailers.”
Keel was asked what kind of future budget cuts are expected.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “It’s hard to plan when you are anticipating more cuts. There is a great deal of uncertainty…”
Increased enrolment has helped offset a little bit regarding budget cuts. GSU is “still a heck of a bargain” for students, he said
He also fielded a question about GSU transportation joining with OTC, EGC and downtown Statesboro to offer students more. He said that idea is “a distinct possibility.”
Cartee chimed in. “One of the largest barriers to our students is transportation. (The partnership) would be very popular, very used.”
Black agreed. Again referring to giving students the “Statesboro experience, “ he said “anything we can do is something we need to explore.”
Cartee also spoke about the effect the pending location of Great Dane in Statesboro on Ogeechee Tech.
“We will be very involved with Great Dane when they get here,” she said. There will be programs to help with pre-employment, workshops, and a project design study to determine “what skills these employees will need, and we will design programs around that.”