South Georgians oppose college mergers

5 busloads from Waycross to confront regents

ATLANTA -- Opponents of merging Georgia’s public colleges brought their complaints to the Capitol Monday during the opening day of the General Assembly.

They are seeking a delay in the vote scheduled for Tuesday by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to allow more time for research on its impact.

“We ask our students every day to go home and do their homework. ... I’m asking the Board of Regents to go home and do its homework,” Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross.

Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said the impact would be negative on Waycross to merge Waycross College with South Georgia College an hour away in Douglas.

“These small colleges mean something to these small communities,” he said.

Local business and churches in Waycross are sponsoring five buses to ferry residents to the regents meeting. However, the meeting room has limited capacity, and most chairs are filled on routine meeting days.

Two local preachers strolled the General Assembly hallways Monday to talk to key leaders about their concerns. Topping the list is the timing. Chancellor Hank Huckaby told local officials last week of the proposal and asked them not to make it public until last Friday.

The timing is designed to railroad it through without public input, said The Rev. Bishop Alton Carter, senior pastor of Brunel Street Church of God.

“I can’t see any other reason,” he said.

The Rev. Fer-Rell Malone, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, said Waycross College has a $22.7 million economic impact on the city and surrounding counties.

“You don’t just come in a week and take that away,” he said.

Waycross leaders have collected 152 signatures on an online petition. The University System is also accepting online comments on its website.

Waycross officials requested the documents Huckaby relied on in deciding to merge Waycross and South Georgia and were told there were none.

“We’re reasonable people,” Carter said. “We just want someone to come down and tell us why this is good for Waycross and Ware County.”

The merger plan would consolidate eight schools into four. Besides the Waycross-South Georgia combination, others include Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University, Gainesville State College and North Georgia State College & University, and Macon State College with Middle Georgia College in Cochran.

 

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