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Ogeechee Tech not on the radar for merger
Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, standing, answers questions Thursday with Dawn Cartee, president of Ogeechee Technical College, left, Brooks Keel, president of Georgia Southern University, center right, and Bob Boehmer, interim president of East Georgia State College, far right, during the Rotary Club of Statesboro's education forum at the Forest Heights Country Club.

    Ogeechee Technical College appears to be safe, for the foreseeable future, from consolidation with any other institution in the Technical College System of Georgia.
    “From what I gather, after talking to the commissioner just this past week with my evaluation, we’re not on the radar, and he doesn’t intend to have any additional mergers during his tenure as our commissioner,” said Dawn Cartee, the president of Ogeechee Tech, in response to a question during the annual Education Roundtable on Thursday morning.
    The Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce hosts the roundtable each year during a joint meeting of the city’s two Rotary Clubs. This year, the leaders of the
county’s four major educational entities — Georgia Southern University, Bulloch County Schools, Ogeechee Tech and East Georgia State College — spoke to Rotarians, education and business leaders gathered at the Forest Heights Country Club.
    The Technical College System has gone through a wave of consolidations in recent years, but Ogeechee Tech was untouched. The University System of Georgia also is going through its own mergers, consolidating eight institutions into four, but Georgia Southern also is not part of that mix.
    When asked their biggest challenge for the new academic year, two of the four education leaders cited tough budgets.
    “I think our biggest challenge is growing pains. One of the things that’s made Georgia Southern so successful is the large-scale, small-feel atmosphere we have here,” GSU President Brooks Keel said. “We are in danger of losing that small feel because, with the dramatic increase we have had in enrollment, we have not been able to keep pace with faculty and staff. Faculty and staff are overworked, but then again, so is everybody. … We not only have the responsibility for training and educating these students but for doing all the other things that a major university is supposed to do, and doing that in the face of reduced budgets.”
    Cartee said that while Ogeechee Tech does not have the same issues as East Georgia and Georgia Southern, the technical college also is affected by state budget cuts.
    “We don’t have the luxury to raise taxes,” she said, patting Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson on the back and drawing laughter from the audience.
    “I don’t have the luxury of raising tuition,” she continued. “It comes from the system, and we don’t do that very often. So a 3 percent cut, as Brooks mentioned, is this fiscal year, another 3 percent next fiscal year. It’s really this community that we rely on to take care of the technology that we need in the classrooms, and staff development for the faculty and things that we need in order to create the workforce that we all need out there.”
    Robert Boehmer, the interim president of East Georgia State College, said that while his institution has one of the best two-year rates among two-year colleges in the University System for students graduating with an associate degree or transferring to a four-year institution, there is still room for improvement.
    “The biggest challenge is raising that rate of academic success so there’s more students out in this community contributing to the economic and social well-being of this community and living good lives,” he said.
    Wilson said the school district’s biggest challenge is trying to accomplish a number of major goals in a short period.
    “Reinventing ourselves, re-engineering our organization so that we are aligned, as I mentioned earlier, with the needs of our students — that they’re well-prepared — re-establishing that culture and rebuilding ourselves as that model of excellence for public education, but all in a fiscally responsible model in the midst of the financial perils that we’re in. We’re going to continue to see those pressures,” he said. “But we can do it. I believe that, regardless of the challenge, the biggest discrepancy is time frames. But you know what? We’ll persevere, we’ll push forward and do it.”
    Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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