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Retiring BoE member: Keep academics at top
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Editor’s note: Bryan County Board of Education member Mary Warnell, who represents Pembroke District 1, recently announced her intention not to seek a third term. That leaves the BoE without one of its most knowledgeable people when it comes to state and federal issues. In that regard, we recently asked her some questions regarding the state of education here and in Georgia.  Here’s what she said.
First, as Bryan County’s liaison to a number of outside groups, what do you do and why is it so important to connect to those organizations?
I have served as the Bryan County BOE’s Legislative Liaison for five of the past eight years. As Legislative Liaison, I am connected to both the Georgia School Board Association and the National School Board Association for updates on both federal and state legislation and how they may impact Bryan County Schools. I have served as the delegate to Georgia School Boards Summer Conference where decisions are made on legislative issues which positively impact Georgia’s schools. I have attended Georgia School Boards Association’s Day at the Capitol in Atlanta each of the past eight years.
In addition, I have regularly contacted our legislators and senators who represent Bryan County through e-mail and phone calls on issues vital to the operation of our schools.
During my first year on the Board of Education in 2003, Bryan County was represented by three State senators and six state Representatives. Since the last redistricting, it has been easier to contact our one senator and two representatives. For the past three years I have been nominated by the Georgia School Boards Association to represent Georgia’s 1st Congressional District by participating in the Federal Relations Network. While in Washington, D.C. the Georgia delegation visited our Senators and Congressmen on Capitol Hill to discuss how federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind, School
Lunch, and Special Education (IDEA) impact our schools.

2. The biggest issue in education today has to be finding a way to pay for it. Is that accurate? And if not, what is the biggest issue?
Yes, funding education is paramount to our success in educating our nation. It’s true, our competition is not just on the local, state, or national level, it is worldwide. While in China in 2007, I visited a high school where students’ academic achievement determined
whether they were enrolled in that school. The competition to be accepted in their “number one” high schools begins on the elementary level and by middle school, parents know whether their children will be furthering their education on the university level.
These high achievers will be guaranteed a place in their universities and many have set their goals to attend Ivy League Colleges and Universities in the United States. Because our colleges and universities are tops in the world, the enrollment of our own students ecomes even more competitive.

3. Georgia, like the rest of the U.S. is suffering from a hurting economy. Yet even before the economic meltdown, local school systems were starting to feel the pinch in terms of reduced state funding. Over an 8-year period Bryan schools lost more than
(I want to say $13 million) in funding. Do you feel the state has short changes education?
Actually the state of Georgia has cut funding to Bryan County Schools by $10 million over the past eight years. Every school system has been cut the same percentage as we have while our state struggles with its economic woes. Currently education is 60% of the
state budget in Georgia. Therefore, it has suffered tremendous cuts and is expected to receive even more. Senator Jack Hill, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has warned us for several years that Georgia’s economy was in trouble even
before we were in the current recession we are experiencing nationwide.

4. The Bryan County BOE enacted a 2 mill tax increase late last year. There were some protests, but not many. Why do you think that is and what were your thoughts on the increase?
My initial response to a tax increase early last year was that we should not impose increased taxes while some of our citizens were experiencing loss of jobs and foreclosures on homes and businesses. However, after the Board thoroughly studied our
budget and cut as many dollars as possible without a reduction in force except through retirements and attrition, without reducing the number of instruction days for students, and without cutting extracurricular programs, it became evident that we had to increase
local taxes.

5. Bryan County Schools have a stellar reputation now, but didn’t always. You have long been involved in the school system (I believe), so you’ve had a front row seat. How was it attained?
On the contrary, Bryan County Schools have long had a stellar reputation. For many years our schools have graduated successful businessmen, physicians, attorneys, judges, and educators as well as other leading professions. Bryan County Schools have long had a quality faculty dedicated to teaching. For many years, my high school, Bryan County High, was the top performer in our region for Literary competition including One-Act Play, Declamation, Debate, and business and music competition with winners not only on the region level but also on the state level. Needless to say our academic and athletic achievements have been many. What has greatly improved are our facilities and increased funding for instruction. For fifteen years, 1971 – 1986, I worked in nutrition education for the dairy industry giving inservice workshops for school systems throughout Georgia. My observation was that all of Georgia’s schools were in the same situation needing funding for instruction and additional and improved facilities. Through
the three SPLOST funds we have passed in Bryan County along with increased state funding for capital outlay, we have certainly improved our facilities. Recently a school board member from a neighboring county told me she was jealous of our system’s
success! I considered it a compliment and thanked her. As long as we keep academics first, everything else will fall into place.

6. Economics aside, what are the major issues facing Bryan County Schools?
I feel the most important issue is a continued drive for academic excellence as well as community respect for academic excellence.
7. Where do you see Bryan County’s school system in 10 years? With the leadership teams in place in our local school sites and central office, I am confident our drive toward academic excellence will continue to keep Bryan County
Schools as a leading, if not the leading, school system in coastal Georgia.

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