You have to wonder if Gov. Sonny Perdue, on behalf of six Republicans in the 2010 race for governor, just placed a large bet on the table — with a three-day furlough of more than 100,000 teachers statewide.
At $33 million per day, the furloughs will make up nearly 10 percent of the $900 million in cuts that Perdue outlined to reporters late Tuesday afternoon.
Ask Roy Barnes: In a close race, the teacher vote — with friends and family — can swing a campaign.
To smooth the way, the governor had a conference call with the state’s school superintendents before breaking the news to reporters late Tuesday afternoon. Perdue can’t technically order teachers furloughed — they’re governed by contracts with individual systems.
(He’s put a cap on other state workers — no more than 12 days in a 12-month period.)
Instead, Perdue said he would be slicing system allocations equivalent to those three furlough days, and let superintendents do what they think best. The governor advised the school officials to target non-teaching days set aside for lesson planning and parent conferences.
“There are about 10 days there in pre-planning, post-planning, staff development, teacher work days that we have throughout the year,” Perdue said.
A 3 percent cut in school funding (5 percent statewide) comes on top of the teacher furloughs.
The governor heaped praise on teachers and school administrators and their dedication. “I thank them for that, I’m sincere in that. And I hope they will — even in light of this bad budget news — continued to be inspired,” he said.
But Perdue also said he thought an air of practicality would reign. Speaking of state employees in general, the governor said, “They’re not unmindful of what’s happening in their neighborhoods. I think state employees at this point are proud to have a job.”
If you’re a John Oxendine or Karen Handel or Nathan Deal or Eric Johnson or Austin Scott, you may be thanking your stars that Perdue isn’t given to — in his own phrase — governing by slogan. Overall, he’s driven more by numbers than ideology. We are not Alaska, nor even South Carolina.
The governor said he was under pressure to make even deeper cuts than he announced Tuesday. But he resisted.
“Philosophically, there is some dispute over whether to predict where the bottom is, and go there right now,” Perdue said. “We had strong sentiments from one section of the Legislature that thought we should be more aggressive early on. But the fact is I think we’d be under more criticism if we picked a false bottom.”
In other words, the one thing Republicans don’t want to do is furlough teachers — and other state workers — after the crisis has passed.
As for those “strong sentiments,” we’re supposing they came from the Senate — but we’re open to other opinions.
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