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State asking schools to furlough teachers
Sonny Perdue
Gov. Sonny Perdue - photo by Courier file photo
ATLANTA - Georgia carved more money from its thinning state budget Tuesday as Gov. Sonny Perdue for the first time called on Georgia's 128,000 teachers to take three unpaid furlough days and ordered 3 percent funding cuts for Medicaid and public schools.

The governor also ordered most state agencies to slash another 5 percent from their spending plans and called on other state employees to take three unpaid days to trim the state's spending to help fill a $900 million shortfall amid plummeting tax collections. He struck the deal with legislative leaders to avoid a special session, but Perdue added that the state may be forced to cut deeper if Georgia's tax collections don't rebound.

"We've got to live in the reality of the moment," he said. "These steps are necessary and prudent to make sure we keep our promises to the taxpayers of Georgia."

Teachers groups, which said they were disappointed by the move, said it has been more than two decades since educators last took unpaid days. But Perdue said he called for furloughs rather than pay cuts because he wanted to show that the move was temporary.

Perdue was forced to order similar slashes to public schools and Medicaid last year, but more painful cuts were blunted earlier this year thanks to $1.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars to plug holes in the programs.

But Perdue said the latest round of cuts was unavoidable amid falling revenues that have forced the state to slash about $3.7 billion from its spending plan over the last few months.

That takes Georgia's funding down to the level it was around 2005, when Georgia had about 1 million fewer residents.

"That gives you a perspective on how our people delivering services are doing more with less," the governor said.

Georgia agencies were scrambling to grapple with the latest round of cuts. One of the only departments exempted from the reductions is state's troubled mental health division, which has been under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department.

The state's judicial system also faces cuts. Perdue said he consulted with judicial leaders to avert a showdown over whether the governor has the power to order cuts to the judiciary. Georgia was on the brink of a constitutional crisis in June when judicial leaders threatened to refuse the cuts.

Many of Georgia's 100,000 state employees have already had to take furlough days, but school systems had been spared until Tuesday. Perdue said he's hopeful that teachers would take the furloughs during planning periods and other times when students are not in class.

But school groups point out that the furloughs will likely affect students, as the furloughs would also extend to other school employees, from administrators to bus drivers and food service employees.

"In some way it would seem to have to impact an instructional day," said Angela Palm, the policy director for the Georgia School Boards Association.

She said furloughs for teachers hadn't been called for in more than 25 years, and other educational groups could not pinpoint the last time they were needed.

State School Superintendent Kathy Cox said she appreciated that Perdue and lawmakers worked to cut education less than other areas, but said that implementing the cuts would be challenging.

And teacher's groups said they were concerned over the effect the furloughs and funding cuts would have on Georgia's students, most of whom are just weeks away from starting the next school year.

"We're really cutting into the bone now. And unfortunately we're going to do harm to students' education, to teachers' activities," said Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

"We're not back to school yet and I'd say the school year is off to a bad start."


Associated Press Writer Dorie Turner contributed to this report.

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