The 2015-16 budget includes $19.8 million for a new fine arts center at ASU ALBANY —
As State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims stepped off the stage at Albany State University’s Billy Black Auditorium Monday afternoon, she leaned over and whispered, “the ink is finally dry.”
Minutes earlier, Gov. Nathan Deal signed the state’s $21.8 billion 2015-16 budget which contained $19.8 million in bonds for the construction of a new fine arts center at Albany State.
Deal became the first sitting governor to visit the Albany State campus since Roy Barnes came to town after the flood of 1994.
It took a decade to secure funding for a new facility to replace the aging Holley Hall. The issue was a thorn in the sides of former school presidents Portia Shields and Everette Freeman. Interim President Art Dunning, Powell Sims, an assist from several area state representatives and fortuitous timing finally pulled it off.
“This is a watershed moment for Albany State University,” Dunning said. “We want to thank the governor for being here and we want to thank our elected officials for what they have done for us.”
“We are so pleased to have the governor here to allow us to host this budget signing on the campus of Albany State,” Sims said, then looked toward the governor. “We are pleased to stand with you today as you sign this budget.”
The path to funding the new facility was a long and twisted process.
As in the previous year, the Georgia Board of Regents had included money in its 2015-16 budget recommendation to the governor for ASU. And as in the previous year, Deal had removed funding from the budget. What was different this year is the centerpiece of Deal’s education reform package which would allow a state take over of failing schools through out the state.
Senate Bill 133 provides the framework for the governor’s “Opportunity Schools” amendment that need two-thirds majority from both house and senate to be included as a constitutional referendum on the 2016 state ballot.
Powell Sims threw her support behind SB133, becoming the only Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, and funding for Albany State’s new fine arts center appeared back in the 2015-16 state budget. The bill eventually passed, as SR 287, by one vote in the Senate and two votes in the house.
“Our decisions on what to fund each year carry a great deal of weight,” Deal said prior to the signing. “I commend the General Assembly for working with me to produce a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our agencies and the people of this great state. Education always eats up the largest part of the budget and we’ve spent more on education than any governor in the past 50 years.
“It pleases me that we were able to include $19.8 million in funding for a new fine arts center at your fine institution.”
The budget also includes more than a $1 million to continue improvements to the Darton State College Student Center. Deal was quick to point out that budget also includes an additional half-billion dollars in K-12 education funding. The money came from reducing austerity cuts.
That additional funding can be used by the state’s 181 school districts to eliminate teacher furlough days, provide teacher raises or restore 180-day school years.
“Today was a pretty strong day for Albany State University and Albany,” Rep. Darrel Ealum (D-Albany) said. “This should be only a beginning.”
The governor also signed two other bills which added an additional $19.7 million to continue the state’s criminal justice reforms, which “utilize community alternatives to sentencing, educational initiatives and reentry support to enhance the safety of Georgians.”http://www.albanyherald.com/news/2015/may/11/gov-nathan-deal-signs-state8217s-218-billion/