Budget preparations include options for cuts

Dragon's Corner, News
Pickens County Board of Education

The Pickens County Board of Education heard a budget progress report on Wednesday.

The Pickens Board of Education received an update on budget preparations ahead of Thursday’s meeting including possible cuts to negate any shortfall from the pandemic. Amy Smith, Chief Financial Officer, met with the board Wednesday to go over the progress. Like other schools in Georgia, Pickens County hasn’t gotten any official information from the state and federal governments on how their budget will be impacted by the pandemic.

“We put this budget together as if school will start normally,” Smith told the board. “We don’t know anything. We’re hearing crickets. We haven’t heard cuts, but we haven’t heard about our allotments, either.”

She said based on the rumored 11-percent cut, the school would lose about $2.7 million and while

She said the system would get $747,600 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but it wouldn’t come close to making up the loss.

“Categorical grants for special education and vocational grants will probably get it,” said Smith. “These numbers could be affected. Until the legislature makes a decision, it’s all up for grabs.”

She said they’ve worked hard to not touch funds for learning, but if it comes to it, they may have to.

To learn more about Pickens County Board of Education and Finance Department, click here.

Not cutting positions, but not replacing staff who leave

She said they are seeing some relief in attrition, by not replacing employees who leave either through retirement of going elsewhere to work.

“The principals have come to us and said let them look to see what they can do,” she said. The result has been not replacing teachers and staff who already left.


Moving expenses to different pots

In some cases, they have been able to move expenses to different pots of money. One instance is how they use CARES, which is a federal grant.

“We can’t pay people in certified positions with it or we’ll lose money,” she said. “But we can move utilities to them.”

She added she was able to take a significant amount from Maintenance and Operations and move it to the CARES fund. She also explained that there were federal requirements to set aside funds for private schools, which she is confident will be claimed.

Her staff is also looking into what expenses can be transferred to Special Local Option Sales Tax or SPLOST. One expense they can move to SPLOST is technology, which was about $52,000.

“We don’t normally like doing that,” Smith said.

Read about Thursday's BOE meeting here.


“Property taxes has been our biggest hit,” Smith said.

Pickens County Board of Education Superintendent

Rick Townsend, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools, said they are looking at the best ways to serve students and parents during the 2020-2021 school year.

She said they’ve collected $115,000 but need $400,000. The Quality Basic Education Act makes up half of the income for the system, but Smith cautioned that if they didn’t collect any property taxes.

“We won’t have anything to carry over into the next budget,” Smith said.

Smith said SPLOST revenue has been up and down.

“It went up in March, then down in April, but shot up this month,” she said.

It’s been the same with sales tax on vehicles.



Some expenses shouldn’t be touched, said Smith.

State mandated salaries and benefits are such expenses. She said they plan only to implement what the state requires.

“We have money set aside for teachers working toward another certificate,” said Smith.

She also said she’s allowed for five positions to cover if a teacher goes out on maternity or sick leave.

“I’ve allowed for five positions, averaging about $62,000 each,” she said. “We may have to touch those, but if we need a new teacher, we’ll have to come back and ask for funding.”

Then, there are new expenses due to the pandemic. Personal protection equipment is needed for modified school. Thermometers are critical and expenses, said Smith. Given that they have spent $20,000 on hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

Watch Rick Townsend’s comments on returning to school on Aug. 3 here.


She said they didn’t budget enough last year for special education pre-kindergarten teacher salaries, which added $27,000 to the budget.

Using Northstar Program for students who need those services will increase by $60,000 to $260,000 from $200,000. This amount could fluctuate based on the number of students in the program.

Salaries for art, physical education and foreign language teachers increased by $300,000.

The new Response to Intervention or RTI program will cost $48,000 instead of $27,000 for kindergarten through eighth-grade. She anticipates the high school will see a similar increase to $22,000 from $12,000


Online learning

Smith said about 1,100 or 25-percent of the students would like to remain virtual.

“We have a committee to look at this. They have to do an impact report so we can see how it affects the budget,” she said.

Patrick Shea, the school’s Chief Technical Officer, has narrowed virtual learning platforms down to two and those are being evaluated by teachers to determine which one would be best. Smith said they estimate the cost to be around $40,000.








Pickens BOE eyes safety and an August 3 first day of school

Board of Education

Preparing for the first day of school on August 3 while respecting health measures is the focus of the Pickens County Board of Education and the administration. The system plans to follow the guidelines set forth by the Georgia Department of Public Health which has three classifications for schools that will be based on the number of COVID-19 cases and population.

As of Thursday night, Pickens had 59 total cases including four deaths. This equates to 175.96 cases per 100,000 residents or 0.176-percent.

pickens boe eyes august 3 first day

Pickens County BOE and Superintendent Rick Townsend are prepared for whatever measures the Georgia DPH implements come August 3.

The DPH will determine if a county has low to no spread, minimal or moderate spread, or substantial spread.

Click here to see the DPH's full Path to Recovery for Georgia's K-12 Schools.

Superintendent Rick Townsend said Pickens County schools will be ready for whatever designation they are given. Low to no spread includes establishing protocols for sick students and staff, disinfecting surfaces, and encouraging good hygiene. Minimal to moderate spread includes implementing enhanced social distancing measures. Substantial spread means closing schools. See a complete explanation here.

Townsend said he and the staff understand that expecting kindergartners to wear masks isn’t a realistic option and masks won’t be required.

“Safety is important and learning is important,” said Townsend. “Everything we are doing now is to prepare us for August 3rd.”

To help the system be ready, an Educational Task Force has been assembled, consisting of two people from each department to get a comprehensive and uniform plan in place. To see who is on the task force, visit here.

To hear Townsend’s complete statements, watch our video here.

Patrick Shea, Chief Technical Officer, updated the board on the search for a learning management system to improve virtual learning with hopes to have it running by the opening day of school.

How is the system planning to handle budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic? Find out here.

“We’re deep in reviews and are down to two finalists who are strong contenders,” Shea said, adding he hoped to bring a recommendation to the board in July so they can have it in place prior to the August 3rd opening day.

In other board news, the board:

  • Heard a budget update from Amy Smith, Chief Financial Officer. The system had 87-percent of the budgeted revenue in May and expenditures were at 78.9-percent. Smith also told the board there was no debt in the school system.
  • Approved a spending resolution for July. This is done when a budget is not passed and allows the school system to spend 1/12th of the previous years budget on monthly expenditures. Like other schools in the state, Pickens County has not received information from the state and federal levels about how their budgets will be affected by the pandemic. If the school board can’t pass a budget in time for August, the board will have to approve another spending resolution.
  • Approved amending the fiscal budget for 2020 by transferring $8.639 million from the general fund to the capital projects fund.
  • Approved the contract service agreement between the system and ABM for the 2020-2021 school year. ABM provides cleaning and sanitation services. The board agreed to rebid the contract for the 2021-2022 school year.
  • Approved a contract with Star 360 which would assess the instructional levels and students for benchmark progress. The cost of the contract was $46, 859.28.
  • Approved to move six buses to surplus.




Townsend named Superintendent of Pickens County Schools

Pickens County Schools
Pickens County Board of Education Superintendent

Rick Townsend was selected by the Pickens County BOE as the Superintedent.

The Pickens County Board of Education named Dr. Rick Townsend as the new Superintendent of Pickens County Schools on Wednesday. The approval was made with a split 3-2 vote.

Townsend’s contract becomes effective April 27. The board also unanimously accepted the resignation of interim Superintendent Charles Webb, effective April 30.

“Dr. Townsend brings a wide array of educational experiences which is of great importance to the Board,” Tucker Green, Chairman of the Pickens County Board of Education stated. “Dr. Townsend’s experience at multiple levels, coupled with his proven track record of improving schools and school districts, was appealing to the Board. The Board also believes that Dr. Townsend is uniquely capable to provide clear leadership from the district level to the school level.”

Additionally, he wants to support school leaders in providing the deserved recognition for the Pickens High graduating class of 2020. Townsend expressed his appreciation to the entire staff for the excellent job they continue to do in educating children and providing for families during this uncertain time.

Read previous story here.

Townsend shared that he is looking forward to working closely with staff and being an integral part of the community that he and his family will call home. With Townsend beginning his work on Monday, his immediate goals are to facilitate a strong finish to the current school year and begin planning for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Pickens County Board of Education

The Pickens County Board of Education held a called meeting on Wednesday.

“We need to continue supporting our core beliefs that all children can learn, that all stakeholders are accountable for student learning, and that we will continue to strive for continuous improvement in student achievement,” said Townsend.

“It is the expectation of the Board that academics and student achievement will be a top priority in the district, and under Dr. Townsend’s leadership and in collaboration with district and school leaders, we believe student achievement will begin to soar in Pickens County,” Chairman Green

Townsend resigned as the Chief Executive Officer of the Golden Isles College and Career Academy in Brunswick, where he has been since 2010. He began is career as a teacher and coach in 1991 at Winder-Barrow Middle School. He has served as assistant principal at Jefferson High School from 1997 to 2002 and principal of Banks County Upper Elementary School from 2002 to 2005. He was then named principal of E.T. Booth Middle School in Cherokee County. He then served as principal, Assistant Superintendent and Acting Superintendent in Appling County schools prior to serving at the Golden Isles College and Career Academy.

A Lithonia native, he and wife Carolyn have been married for 29 years. She is a kindergarten teacher and they have three children, Haley, Emily, and Molly. Townsend is a graduate of Reinhardt College, the University of Georgia, and the University of West Georgia, where he earned his doctorate of education in school improvement.




Pickens BOE names Rick Townsend as finalist for superintendent

Board of Education

Pickens County Board of Education named Dr. Rick Townsend as the only finalist for Superintendent in a special called meeting Tuesday. Four members voted for the motion while Sue Finley cast the only vote against in a meeting that was held partially in-person at the Board of Education building in Jasper with two members attending by phone.

As required by Georgia statute, a 14-day public comment period is now in effect.

Pickens County Board of Education Superintendent

Rick Townsend was named by the Pickens County BOE as the single finalist for the position after a three-month search.

On April 7, the Pickens County Board of Education voted to name Dr. Rick Townsend as the single finalist for the position of Superintendent. As required by Georgia statute, a 14-day public comment period is now in effect since a finalist has been named.

Townsend currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Golden Isles College and Career Academy in Brunswick, where he has been since 2010. He began is career as a teacher and coach in 1991 at Winder-Barrow Middle School. He has served as assistant principal at Jefferson High School from 1997 to 2002 and principal of Banks County Upper Elementary School from 2002 to 2005. He was then named principal of E.T. Booth Middle School in Cherokee County. He then served as principal, Assistant Superintendent and Acting Superintendent in Appling County schools prior to serving at the Golden Isles College and Career Academy.

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A Lithonia native, he and wife Carolyn have been married for 29 years. She is a kindergarten teacher and they have three children, Haley, Emily, and Molly. Townsend is a graduate of Reinhardt College, the University of Georgia, and the University of West Georgia, where he earned his doctorate of education in school improvement.

The decision was made after the board received 34 applicants from across Georgia and several other states. Of those, 14 candidates were interviewed and reference information gathered, leading the board to have in-depth interviews with four applicants. During this process, the board surveyed more than 200 school employees and more than 500 members of the community to determine which qualifications and characteristics were considered most important.

During the 14-day public input period, the board will finalize terms of employment. For more Pickens County school news, read our story about Tate Elementary.



Local businesses come together to help

pickens county closings public health emergency

JASPER, Ga.–Two local businesses have teamed up to help both businesses and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharp Top Social Media is partnering with The Old Mulehouse to #supportjasper by encouraging patrons who go out to eat to first, tip their server more than usual, then to purchase a gift card to that establishment. The next time they dine out, they leave that server a tip and the previously purchased gift card while also purchasing a gift card from that establishment.

“I’m passionate about small business,” said Taree Darby, owner of Sharp Top Social Media. “So when Old Mule House reached out to me to see what we could do, I was all for it.”

They are seeing success. Many small businesses are reposting and encouraging everyone to get involved.

“We’re really coming together in an amazing way,” said Darby.

She said the idea was based on a post by Jeff Dollars, who encouraged his followers to tip extra and buy a gift card to pass to the next server the patron has.

hope to help

Two local businesses in Pickens County hope to help by encouraging the public to help local restaurants during the COVID-19 shutdown.

What the schools are doing

Pickens County schools are providing meals for students during the COVID-19 shutdown. The schools will be closed from Monday, March 16-Friday, March 27 to prevent the spread of the highly contagious illness.According to a press release issued, the school system will make a decision on Thursday, March 26, on whether the danger has passed sufficiently to reopen.

For more information, check their website here.

hope to help

Pickens County Schools are offering the above pick-up times and locations to help students get fed during the COVID-19 shutdown.

County government offices closed to the public

The Pickens County government has also announced that the county administrative offices will be closed to the public during the same time frame. Although residents will not be allowed to enter the buildings, alternate forms of business communication will be available. For instance, residents can use the drop boxes on the front and side of the buildings to pay taxes and their water bill as

hope to help

The Pickens County courthouse released this statement concerning their procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

well as paying online. The staff will be in the office to answer phones.

Check the county’s website here.

Chief Judge Brenda S. Weaver entered a Declaration of Judicial Emergency for Pickens, Gilmer, and Fannin counties. They are continuing with non-essential court for the next 30-days, but encourage precaution and asking the public to limit visits to the courthouse.

The Pickens County Recreation department has also cancelled all events through March. For a complete listing, check their calendars here.

Govenor Kemp authorizes activation of the Georgia National Guard in response to COVID-19. Read the story here.


Pickens BOE discusses start and dismissal times

Board of Education, Feature News
Pickens County Schools

Pickens BOE discussed start and dismissal times but made no solid proposals as they learned there are no easy answers when it comes to the school schedules was the message during a recent called meeting.

No action was taken by the board and no comments from the public were allowed. Each option has positive and negative aspects.

Option 1: Leave the schedule as is. Middle and high school currently starts at 7:35 and ends at 2:10.

Option 2: Eliminate double bus routes.

“We’d love to do this, but we are short 10 drivers,” said Tony Young, assistant superintendent. “We’re facing some retirements, so next year, it could be 12-14 drivers.”

Option 3: Starting elementary school at 7:35, end at 2:10 and the middle and high school would start at 8:20 and dismiss at 3:10.

start and dismissal times

Pickens County BOE discussed the pros and cons to flipping the start times of the elementary with the middle and high school.

“This puts the issues on the other hand since we’re just flipping the times,” said Young.

The down side with the current elementary schedule is parents dropping their children off at 7 a.m. For those in aftercare, it’s a long day. Also, some middle and high school coaches work at the elementary school and have to leave at 2:10 to coach. This means paraprofessionals handle the last hour of their classes.

Buses pick up at 5:30 in the morning

However, because buses have to run two routes, flipping the schedule means some elementary school students, as young as five-years-old may have to get on the bus at 5:30 in the morning. Right now, middle and high school students are being picked up at 5:30 in the morning.

One board member said she didn’t like the idea of any student, regardless of age or grade, being picked up at 5:30 a.m.

“I don’t like getting picked up at that time and they don’t either,” she said.

The other downside is recess and instructional time would have to be cut. Anywhere from five to 15 minutes.

“There are no easy answers,” said Young. “Ideally, if we had the 10 bus drivers, the schools could start anytime they wanted.”

He said efforts to hire new drivers have been futile.

When asked if the board could take questions and comments from the audience, Tucker Greene, the Chairman of the Board, said they could from the attending principals, but the meeting wasn’t “the time or the place” to hear from the public on the matter.

For other stories on Pickens BOE, click here.

For Pickens County Board of Education, click here.





BOE asked to consider a health clinic, first grade parapros

Board of Education, News
Pickens County Board of Education

The Pickens County Board of Education held a called meeting on Friday.

The Pickens County Board of Education heard a request to consider a school based health clinic and adding paraprofessionals to first grade classrooms in a called session on Friday. Schools were out on Friday due to inclement weather.

“In one academic year, we documented 52,000 clinic visits,” said Kimberly Parker, a registered nurse who was formerly the nursing supervisor for school nurses in Picken’s County. She began researching options to help schools remedy the health care crisis she saw and even though she is no longer working for the schools, she is a parent and lives in Pickens County.

“There is something better we can offer our kids,” she said. Her research led her to discovering school-based clinics that operated year around.

The initiative was awarded a $10,000 grant from Emory University but at 2018, she said they needed to reevaluate but not change the ultimate goal.

“We have the resources,” she said.

Tammy Sorrels, chief executive officer for Good Samaritan, asked the board to consider allowing the community clinic to partner with the schools.

“The county would provide utilities, phone, and internet services,” she said. “Good Samaritan would furnish medical equipment and staff.”

She said the clinic now provides services to all ages, local and outside of Pickens County, and accepts insurance.

Good Samaritan offers medical, dental, behavioral health, and a pharmacy. They recently hired a psychiatric nurse-practitioner. Click here to learn more about Good Samaritan.

Having a school based clinic on site would allow school nurses to refer students to the clinic while at school. She also said the operation hours would be the same as the regular clinic, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and would be open year around. The clinic would also be available for Pickens County students, family members, and government staff.

Services offered:

  • Tests for strep throat
  • Flu shots
  • Sports physicals
  • Tooth and Eye exams
  • Scoliosis screenings
  • Medicine and check-ups for chronic conditions, like asthma and diabetes
  • Counseling for mental health and emotional issues
  • Referrals to specialists, if needed
  • Help to apply for health insurance

Principals ask for parapros in first grade classrooms

Three elementary school principals asked the board to consider hiring 17 paraprofessionals, one per every first grade classroom, in order to improve reading.

“When placed in appropriate roles, paraprofessionals can influence student learning and there are multiple studies back this up,” said Jennifer Halko, Hill City Elementary principal.

The goal would be to improve literacy skills. She said currently, Pickens County has almost 50-percent of their elementary students proficient in reading.

“This is in line with the state numbers, but we want better for our students,” she said.

Paraprofessionals make $27,288 per year, so the total cost would be $463,896. Currently, paraprofessionals are only in kindergarten classes.

In Pickens County, Halko said, 18-percent of kindergarten students, with paraprofessionals, are not proficient in reading. By the end of first grade, 32-percent of students are not proficient. The percentage drops a bit for overall first through third graders. Twenty-nine percent of first through third graders are not proficient in reading.

“It’s unacceptable,” she said.

“Everyone of you on the board have said you want to see academics improve at a faster rate,” said Charles Webb, Ph. D., interim superintendent. “We have that potential. I believe we have the resources to be among the top 10-percent of the state and this is one way to get there. We have a lot to think about.”

In other board news

The board voted to not make up the day of school missed on Friday due to inclement weather.



Board hires Interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Webb

Dragon's Corner, Featured, News

PICKENS CO., Ga – Pickens County Board of Education unanimously approved the hiring of Interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Webb, effective immediately, during Dec. 20 called meeting.

Webb served in the same capacity three years ago after Dr. Lula Mae Perry resigned in December of 2016, after which he was interim from January to May 2017 until Dr. Carlton Wilson was hired by the local board.

FYN asked Board Chair Tucker Green when the school system would vote to open the search for a full-time superintendent, and he said in Jan. 2020.

After the Dec. 19 resignation of Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson, board members scheduled a 10 a.m. executive session to interview two candidates for the interim role. Some of those in attendance called the entire situation a “train wreck” and expressed frustrations with the board’s last-minute course of action.

The closed meeting lasted two hours with one candidate appearing in person, and the other, Webb, interviewing over the phone.

The board collectively decided to call Webb about the position because of his previous experience with Pickens County Schools. The other candidate had been referred to the board by an outside party.

Once exiting the executive session, Board Member Joeta Youngblood made the motion to appoint Webb as interim superintendent, and Steve Smith seconded. The entire board voted in favor of the new hire.

During more than 32 years in public and private education, Webb served as a teacher, coach, department chair, athletics director, assistant principal, middle school and high school principal, central staff administrator, and superintendent before retiring in 2008 after serving as superintendent for the Appling County Schools.

He served as Interim School Superintendent in Gilmer County during April-July 2015 and in Pickens County during January-May 2017.

As an independent consultant, he currently assists school districts and other organizations with strategic planning, board training, finance, team building and leadership development. He earned four degrees from Georgia Southern University, including the Doctor of Education degree in Education Administration. He was inducted into Phi Delta Kappa in 1993.

Earlier in his career, Webb was a successful football coach and athletic administrator. He was
enshrined in the Georgia Athletic Directors Hall of Fame in 2003. He also graduated from the U.S. Army War College in 1997 and received the U.S. Army War College Foundation Award for Excellence in Research and Writing, the only award presented at graduation.

He retired as a Brigadier General in the Reserve of the United States Army after more than 32
years of military service as a citizen soldier. His service record includes several active duty tours and four
overseas assignments to Kuwait, Egypt, Norway and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

The Webb’s live in Statesboro, Georgia. He and his wife Lynda are members of the First
Presbyterian Church in Statesboro. He is an ordained elder and a graduate of the Savannah Presbytery
School of the Laity (2003-2005). He earned the Certificate in Theology and Ministry (CTM) from Princeton
Theological Seminary in 2015.

The reasoning behind Wilson’s resignation is still unclear. FYN confirmed in the Dec. 18 session, the board delivered the former superintendent an ultimatum to either “resign or be terminated.”

Notification about the Dec. 19 emergency meeting to accept Wilson’s resignation went out just 61 minutes before the start time. Georgia Law mandates that most called meetings provide 24-hour notice to allow the public to attend. However, if “special circumstances” are cited, then the meeting can forego the 24-hour requirement.

Board members Sue Finley and Smith voted against accepting Wilson’s resignation in the Dec. 19 meeting.

Wilson will be releasing a statement in the future to the public about his departure.

Pickens County Board of Education April 13th 2017 meeting

Dragon's Corner

Pickens County School Board Meeting July 14th 2016


Pickens County Board of Education Regular Meeting July 14th 2016


Pickens County Board of Education April 14, 2016 Video


School Board Public Hearing March 17th 2016- Strategic Waivers School System


The Pickens County School Board held a public hearing on March 17th regarding Pickens County School District’s Strategic Waivers School System Application and Contract.

The Pickens County School District held a public hearing Thursday, March 17, 2016, at 6:00 p.m. regarding its application and contract to become a Strategic Waivers School System (SWSS), one of the reform options available for Georgia’s K-12 public school systems.  The hearing was held to seek public comments.  Magistrate Judge of Pickens County Allen Wigington, his wife Rosemary Wigington, Chief Superior Court Judge Honorable Brenda Weaver, and Dr. Carlton Wilson addressed the Board regarding the Waivers.  Judge Weaver requested the attendance waiver be removed and spoke passionately regarding the importance of children being in school.  The Board and agreed and moved and passed a motion to remove the attendance waiver.  After discussion and hearing the speakers the School Board voted to approve the application.

Two other local school systems  made decisions on these issues long ago.  Fannin County School System applied for Charter Status in October of 2014.  Gilmer County became a Charter School system in 2014 as well.  It appears the Pickens County Board of Education has waited a long time to make this decision.

The SWSS model (formerly known as Investing in Educational Excellence, IE²) was chosen as the reform option for the Pickens County School District. The Board has stated it feels this model allows for flexibility and yet preserves and promotes high quality academic achievement, student success, and visionary leadership. The Pickens County School District invited the public to be part of this community input hearing as it prepared to submit this important partnership application and contract to the Georgia Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.   Investing in Educational Excellence (IE2) System Application

Pickens County Board of Education March 10, 2016 Regular Meeting Video


Board of Education maintenance Supervisor Arrested for Theft



Pickens Board of Education Jan 14, 2016 Video


Pickens County Board of Education Meeting January 14th 2016

Pickens County Board of Education Sept 10, 2015 part 3


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