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State, local educators meet
Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Steve Wilmoth (fourth from left) listens to a discussion Wednesday when Georgia Department of Education officials visited Liberty County for a face-to-face meeting with educators and administrators from Liberty, Chatham and Bryan counties. - photo by Daisy Jones
Concerns about the accuracy of Pentagon military projections for children entering the area’s public schools next year brought Georgia Department of Education officials to Hinesville Wednesday for a face-to-face meeting with local officials.
Liberty County Board of Education Chairman Lily Baker and School Superintendent Dr. Steve Wilmoth were among school administrators from Liberty, Chatham and Bryan counties notified to attend the meeting.  
Wilmoth said the state called the meeting.
Georgia’s Chief Deputy School Superintendent Stuart Bennett said the visit was a search for information.
“We’ve been hearing conflicting information about the numbers of military children coming into the area and we came down to get the ground truth,” he said.
Bennett said the Pentagon had sent notice that a significant number of military families would come to Georgia’s schools based on current world events.  But local reports paint a different picture.   “In a lot of discussions Fort Stewart was not mentioned. That prompted us to get down here and see what was going on,” he said. “It’s our hope that they (Fort Stewart) should be communicating with y’all.”
Bennett said his office wants to be prepared for any major changes as the state starts projecting the 2008-2009 school budgets. Wilmoth said he understood the state’s need to know. “They’re trying to confirm what they’re hearing from their sources. We have heard things before and we haven’t had anything to go on,” he said. “We haven’t had big concerns at this point.”
Although local officials don’t expect an immediate increase in military children, state officials said Fort Stewart expansions raise awareness. “Buildings and build out is a leading indicator of growth on military installations,” Bennett said.
Military construction is planned years in advance and so are schools. “The state wants to make sure we have the money to build schools and fund teachers if we need to. That was the whole purpose of the meeting. It’s such an issue that they want us to stay on top of it,” he said.
While state officials were pleased with the outcome of the main issues, Bennett said getting extra money to help public school children is a priority. He said GADOE would weigh in next month on legislation that will affect the schools.
Wilmoth said a follow up meeting is not planned at this time. “I think they went back feeling like we weren’t going to have the numbers they were hearing. Quite frankly our military numbers are slightly down this year. I don’t have any concerns at this point and I don’t have anything to alert me at this point,” the superintendent said.
With the deployment starting right now we just don’t know whether families will move are if they stay with us.  We hope the fort is providing enough things and we’re planning enough things to keep them here,” Wilmoth said.  

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