Originally created 09/05/97

Resource centers in jeopardy



ATLANTA -- More than a quarter-century after Georgia established a system to help teachers who work with disabled children, a state report is raising questions about whether independent Learning Resource centers have outlived their usefulness.

The $3.6 million-a-year system of local centers has been operating without Georgia Department of Education oversight or guidance and may duplicate efforts of other taxpayer-financed programs, a critical state report says.

State schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko, whose department funds the Georgia Learning Resources System, agrees with most of the findings and said she complained to lawmakers about the program two years ago when she took office.

"I think the audit is fairly accurate. A lot of these points are the very same things I was concerned about two years ago and we couldn't get the Legislature to change things," Ms. Schrenko said when asked about the report.

Senate Education Chairman Richard Marable, D-Rome, said, "I can't remember her making any request like that."

The system is composed of 17 regional centers that offer support services to educators and parents of students with disabilities. Each center is staffed by a director, a child service coordinator and a secetrary/librarian.

State auditors looked at program records for fiscal year 1996, which ended June 30, 1996, and found that the 17 centers received between $195,000 and $269,000 apiece, with most of the money going for staffers' salaries and benefits.

Center reports said nearly 50,000 people attended workshops, conferences or professional development courses offered through the system and 11,575 people borrowed materials from center libraries.

Georgia Department of Audits officials said they found discrepancies in some usage figures reported by the centers.

The audit argued the system "does not effectively or efficiently address the needs associated with the education of disabled students in the current educational environment."

The audit raises the possibility of integrating services currently provided through the centers into the Regional Education Service Agencies, which also are state-financed. In some areas, the two programs are housed in the same building.

"The need for separate organizations offering regional staff development activities is questionable," the audit says.

It also recommends the education department set goals, objectives and outcome measures to monitor activities at the centers.

Mrs. Schrenko said the Regional Education Service Agencies, known as RESAs, could do what the centers do and save the state money.

"Now, we have a director for every RESA and we have a director for every GLRS," she said. "They (the centers) have to be accountable in some way. Right now, they are just out there."