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Lawmaker researches school woes
Rep.-elect Jeff Chapman has not started his service in the General Assembly, or even taken his oath of office, but that's not stopping him from tackling a few local issues.

Along with concern he expressed Monday about rules and regulations guiding the Glynn County Airport Commission, Chapman is setting his sights on the Glynn County Board of Education.

"I want to remove the obstacles that are preventing us from becoming a high performing school system," Chapman said.

He recognizes recent gains made in graduation rates and average scores on state-mandated standardized tests, but Chapman, a Glynn Academy graduate, wants to see the school system considered one of the best in the state.

It is the same goal members of the board of education have expressed many times, but Chapman says he is not taking things at face value. Simply securing more revenue may not be the wisest solution, he said.

The obstacles cited by the board -- primarily state budget cuts, dwindling property tax revenue and a large socioeconomic gap in student demographics -- may not be exactly what they seem, Chapman said.

"I listen to that and what I am finding is that those are not accurate statements," Chapman said.

The future representative said he has been collecting data on the demographics of students in Glynn County. While there are populations of low income students within the system, Glynn County students are better off than many around the state, Chapman said.

The preliminary data Chapman has gathered is not complete, he said. But when it is, he plans to meet with the board and present his findings. Then he plans to work with the board to find solutions.

By more narrowly defining the obstacles, Chapman hopes to find the best way to get past them.

"We may have a solution laying right in front us," Chapman said.

Board of education member Mike Hulsey said if Chapman comes to the board with ideas and a cooperative attitude, the board will be happy to hear from him.

"We always are open to ideas and suggestions," Hulsey said.

It will take some convincing to make Hulsey believe a large population of low income students does not contribute to some of the difficulties the system has faced in boosting achievement district wide.

More than 60 percent of public school students in Glynn County receive free and reduced price lunch, the federally recognized standard for impoverished students. Statistics nationwide show those students tend not to perform as well as those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, Hulsey said.

Boosting low income achievement is often accomplished by getting more children into prekindergarten programs and having smaller class sizes in early grades, Hulsey said. Simply put, paying teachers and expanding the state funded FACES pre-K program costs money, he said.

"You can't separate the funding piece from it," Hulsey said.

Chapman can help in Atlanta by pushing to remove some of the partially funded state education mandates that drain the already dwindling local property tax revenue, Hulsey said. Those include increases in insurance costs, mandated salary increases based on tenure and removal of decade-old austerity cuts. Hulsey would be eager to hear any ideas from Chapman or other members of Glynn County's state delegation.

"We would like to sit down with him and hear what he pulls together," Hulsey said.

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