PICKENS COUNTY, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education shared drafts of two policy revisions and two new policies at their latest meeting. One new policy would establish a parental bill of rights, while another provides regulation on “divisive concepts” and racial discrimination in schools.
Two policy revisions were shared at the meeting. One revision, on Policy JB: Student Attendance, ensures that students who are participating in 4-H activities and program won’t be recorded as absent “for any day, portion of a day, or days missed from school.”
Another policy revision requires that all K-5 Pickens County students have a scheduled recess once a day. The original language of Policy IEDA: Unstructured Break Time gave principals the discretion to “schedule unstructured break time for students in grades K-5, and are authorized to determine the length, frequency, timing, and location of breaks at their schools.” If the new policy is enacted, principals would only have the ability to control the length, timing, and location of the break. Although it requires daily recess, the revision does make an exception for students who have Physical Education that day, or for emergency circumstances and inclement weather.
The policy revision would also allow middle school principals to schedule unstructured breaks, but gives provides them the authority on the frequency, location, and length of the break. It was noted that Jasper Middle School principal Corey Thompson planned to schedule recess for both fifth and sixth graders.
Both policy revisions were approved for public review by the board. Board Chair Sue Finley noted that final approval of the revisions would be on the board’s August 11 meeting agenda.
The board also presented two new policies, and both address topics that have received wide public attention across the country.
A draft of Policy JRB: Parents’ Bill of Rights shows that the board intends to promote “parental involvement in school district” by ensuring the Superintendent, or someone designated by them, abides by the five provisions listed. The policy would allow parents to review their child’s records, review and object to instructional material, opt out of sex education, and disallow recordings or photographs of their child.
Draft Board Policy IKBB: Divisive Concepts Complaint Resolution Process would prohibit race-based discrimination and “ensure that curricula and training programs encourage employees and students to practice tolerance and mutual respect and to refrain from judging others based on race.” In addition, the policy establishes the process in which parents, employees, or adult students can complain about policy violations. The full process can be found here.
Similar to the policy revisions, both proposed policies were approved for public review by the board, and discussion will continue during the August 11 regular board meeting.
Earlier in the July 14 meeting, the board discussed the end of pandemic-era free school meals.
PICKENS COUNTY, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education heard continued discussions about the school district’s nutrition services, including supply and cost issues affecting school meals.
In a June board meeting School Nutrition Director Beth Thompson informed the board that pandemic-era free meals at Pickens County Schools would be coming to an end after Congress failed to extend the benefit for another year. Despite the rising costs of food, Thompson shared that prices would not be raised for students.
Starting this fall, breakfast will cost students at any Pickens school $1.50. Lunch for students will cost $2.15 at elementary schools, $2.40 at middle and junior high schools, and $2.45 at the high school.
Although paid lunches are returning, Thompson emphasized that applications for free or reduced-price meals will be returning. During the board’s July 14 meeting, board member Tucker Green again stressed the importance of making families aware of the ends to automatically free lunches: “We have a lot of concern about people filling out the forms after getting accustomed to not.” To ensure families are made aware of the change, the board, as well as other staff in attendance, discussed strategies to expand access to the application. Fliers informing families at open houses or in local news media, QR code and online access to applications, and paper copies at school were just some options mentioned as the district prepares for applications to open.
Beginning July 18, 2022, families will be able to submit a free or reduced-price meal application, and students who qualify for reduced-price meals will pay only $0.30 for their breakfast and $0.40 for their lunch.
Increasing costs were not the only issue Chief Operations Officer Stacy Gilleland brought to the board during his Food Services report. He also noted that School Nutrition Services has seen a decrease in food options from 600 to under 250 due to supply issues. “Everybody’s having the same problem,” Gilleland explained, “It’s not Pickens County.” The board took action to ease some supply issues during their June 2022 meeting by voting to approve a contract with Sysco Food Services of Atlanta that intends to expand grocery access to Fannin County, Gilmer County, and Pickens County.
Board Chair Sue Finley asked if federal health standards, like those placed on calorie content and grain types, would be eased in light of shortage and cost issues. Gilleland explained that those regulations were still in place. “All they’re doing is, if we can’t get something because of a supply issue, they’ll give us a little grace on that, but the expectation is to follow the meal pattern,” School Nutrition Director Beth Thompson added.
PICKENS COUNTY, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education heard from Pickens County School System employees who discussed how the school district is tackling important issues. School Nutrition Director Beth Thompson spoke to the board about how the schools’ are handling shortage and cost-related problems. Notably, Thompson explained the end of automatic free meals, but shared that prices will not increase. Pickens High School Principal Chris Wallace also discussed new plans to improve safety throughout the county.
School Nutrition Director Beth Thompson first discussed the district’s School Wellness Program, noting each school implemented the “wellness policy goals for nutrition education and promotion, physical education, and physical activity goals.”
Then, explaining how student meals will be handled during the 2022-2023 school year, Thompson told the board: “We are returning to the normal, pre-pandemic national school lunch program, school breakfast program, and this does mean that meals will not automatically be served to kids at no charge.” Despite the return of paid meals, and recent inflation that has caused food costs to increase significantly, Thompson emphasized that the school district will not be raising student meal prices. While each meal costs around four dollars to produce, she said, students will only pay from $2.15 to $2.45, depending on the school they attend. Thompson emphasized the decision to keep prices the same as “the right thing to do.” She also mentioned that families will once again receive applications for free or reduced meal prices and noted a new online application that will be available this year in an attempt to make it more accessible to all families. It was also noted that the end of the pandemic-era free meals was not a local decision, but came from the federal level.
Thompson also recommended the approval of a contract with Sysco Food Services of Atlanta that will help address issues with access to groceries in Gilmer, Fannin, and Pickens County. Later in the meeting, it was unanimously approved by the board.
Pickens High School Principal Chris Wallace also spoke to the board. He took time to explain the safety approach of “prevention, preparedness, and response” and discuss upcoming plans. Wallace told the board, “We’re here for school of course, curriculum, instruction, all of that is really important, but that doesn’t really matter if you can’t keep kids safe.” He said meetings are already being held to discuss safety related topics like communication during emergencies and planning with the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and School Resource Officers (SROs). Wallace also noted that there is evaluation underway to examine current procedures and improve upon what is lacking. As an example of implementing new safety procedures, Wallace explained a plan for Pickens High School that will stop unsupervised class transitions between buildings. Further, he cited the presence of a trained SRO in each school, helping students create “a habit of vigilance,” and planned training sessions inside Pickens facilities.
During the meeting, the board also approved the tentative budget for the fiscal year of 2023, as well as salary schedules. Superintendent Tony Young commented on the salary schedules, saying “This year’s schedules will reflect an increase in pay for all classified staff. Certified staff will receive a $2,000 annual pay increase from the state, which our board will add to at the rate of 10%, which will also become a permanent part of their pay scale moving forward … I would also like to point out that, including the bonuses the board has approved over the last two years, every staff member in this system has received additional pay, which I believe reflects the value this board holds toward its staff.”
The board approved an agreement with Georgia Southern University and updates to sex education curriculum during the meeting. They also recognized the historic achievements of Pickens 4H competitors and heard updates on the county’s summer camp program.
PICKENS, Ga. — The Pickens Board of Education met prior to School Board Appreciation week, where they received recognition from Director of Community Engagement Destini Shope on behalf of the community. The board also approved several purchases during the meeting.
Shope spoke briefly in anticipation of School Board Appreciation Week, a statewide initiative named through a proclamation from Governor Brian Kemp for the week of March 14, 2022. “Pickens County board members support learning initiatives in the district and work to provide students and teachers all the resources needed to be as successful as possible,” Shope said, “Additionally, the Pickens County Board of Education is debt free and has continued to decrease the education portion of the millage rate for many consecutive years.” Shope recognized each board member and noted the work required of the board outside of monthly meetings, including conferences and training events. “We cannot ask for more when it comes to a board and we are thankful for their dedication to our students, staff, and community, and we rely upon their encouragement and support to make Pickens County Schools one of the best school systems in the state.” She also presented the board members with certificates and gifts.
During the March 10 meeting, the board approved the purchase of six new school buses at a total cost of $672,000. The buses will be purchased from a new company, a move that Chief Operations Officer Stacy Gilleland said will ultimately save the county around $35,000. Vice Chair Tommy Gartrell commented on the purchase, saying “This is just a continuation of our efforts to keep a modern, safe fleet for students. None of our buses are over 10 years old, and its this plan that we use that keeps it that way so we know that all our students are in a quality bus.”
The board also approved repairs to the Pickens High School Stadium. Potential repairs include installing new seating, repainting, and resealing concrete throughout the stadium. It was also noted by several members that the repairs are both cosmetically and structurally necessary, as well as a proactive move to save money on more extensive repairs in the future. Additionally, the board approved a $269,253 greenhouse purchase for Pickens Junior High.
During his Superintendent Report, Gilleland also updated the board on several projects happening in the school district. Gilleland first noted that there was a major water main leak at the Pickens County High School that affected the school’s fire suppression system and roof leaks at several schools, but explained both issues were resolved. In a continuation of the county’s effort to employ more bus drivers, Gilleland told the board that entry level driver training classes are currently underway, following changes to training regulations.
The board also approved a resolution that allows Pickens School Board members to opt into the State Health Benefit Plan for Public School Employees. Superintendent Tony Young spoke briefly on the resolution, “All board members serve in a difficult job for $100 per meeting. This would be an added optional benefit for this board, as well as future boards.”
Pickens High School College and Career Coach Daniel Bell gave a detailed presentation to the board about his school’s dual enrollment programs. Bell primarily highlighted “Option B” dual enrollment students during his presentation. Bell explained “Option B” as a path to graduation that only requires students to take nine high school courses before moving on to some form of vocational schooling to complete an Associates Degree, a diploma program, or two technical certificates. That path, he said, is a savior for some students who would not graduate otherwise. According to Bell, 9 “Option B” PHS students will be graduating in May, and he expects that number to increase in the coming school years. Board Chair Sue Finley invited Bell to the board’s next work session to further discuss the needs of the program, and several board members expressed their desire to take action that will continue its development.
A memorandum of understanding with Brenau University that will allow Brenau students to observe classes within Pickens County schools was also approved during the meeting.
PICKENS, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education approved three agreements between the Pickens School District and the University of Georgia, Reinhardt University, and ACEMAPP, offered by the Michigan Health Council, respectively during their Feb. 10 meeting.
“I’m excited to bring this agreement to the board for its approval, as this will open yet another door for our CTAE Department and our students,” Superintendent Tony Young said of the member agreement with the Michigan Health Council, who developed ACEMAPP. He continued, “ACEMAPP is the electronic platform that Piedmont Healthcare uses for the credentialing of all students within their organization, including high schools students, so becoming familiar with this platform will give our students a leg up as they move into the healthcare field.”
The member agreement itself explains that “ACEMAPP maintains a database of student, volunteer and contractual staff profiles, computer based learning and assessments and other requirements necessary for clinical placements and onboarding into health system facilities which will be accessible by colleges, universities, clinical sites, faculty and students and a database of clinical placement, job shadowing, and observational opportunities along with institutional profiles of members and allows Members access to information concerning such opportunities.”
Superintendent Young noted that it is not used only for credentialing, but for testing and communication, along with a platform for students to upload their certifications and areas of knowledge: “Having our students become familiar with this and become a part of that infrastructure will help them when they actually graduate and begin to … apply for healthcare positions.” He also explained that ACEMAPP is used by a majority of healthcare providers, making students more accessible to potential employers. First year costs, about $900 according to Young, will be covered by Piedmont Healthcare, but the district will take on the costs in subsequent years. The board unanimously approved the agreement.
Two other agreements were approved by the board in the same meeting. One, with University of Georgia’s Mary Frances Early College of Education, will allow UGA students to participate inside the Pickens School District. The memorandum of understanding grants permission for UGA students to take part in “school and classroom observations; exploratory and pre-student teaching activities; special field studies and research projects; and student teaching/capstone experiences.” Another agreement, with Reinhardt University, continues an already existing relationship. Superintendent Young said the agreement would “continue to allow their nursing students to shadow our nursing students, as a part of their training for certification. As nursing is such a high demand field around the country and as well as in Pickens County, I’m pleased the board is willing to assist the university as they train our future nurses.”
The Pickens County Board of Education issued the following press release today.
The press release can also be viewed at the school district’s website.
PICKENS, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education focused on COVID-19 and digital learning updates during their September meeting. Six Pickens County principals and the Director of Health Services gave presentations to the board, bringing them up to date with the district’s current COVID-19 related procedures.
Digital Learning in Pickens County
Itslearning, an online education service, has been used in Pickens to assist with digital learning since the beginning of the pandemic. Now that most students are back in school, teachers and administrators have faced new challenges with online learning. However, school faculty members are tackling the task head on.
Jennifer Halko, principal of Hill City Elementary, began by emphasizing their success with itslearning to the board. “I think we are really on the right track with it now,” she noted, “it is just part of our daily use in the classroom.” Halko went on to detail the three scenarios in which itslearning is utilized in the elementary schools: in-person classes, small quarantines and full school closures. Use during completely in-person classes helps the students get accustomed to the program. This often daily practice prepares students for use at home, ensuring they can properly navigate the service. “In that situation, the students are very familiar with itslearning. They have been using it everyday, all year,” Halko ensured the board. She also addressed possible concerns with teacher support, bringing up communication options and live video meets supported through the service.
Board members also raised concern about student accountability and participation while using itslearning. The principals addressed these questions, noting that the program automatically logs the amount of time a student spends actively working. Halko clarified, “We send out those expectations beforehand … we are monitoring their progress toward the standards.” Marla Callahan, principal of Harmony Elementary, also pointed out that students have an opportunity to complete their online work when they return to school.
During his presentation Dr. Chad Flatt, the Pickens Junior High principal, explained how PJHS uses itslearning and reiterated its importance. He told the board, “You have to have something, ‘cause we can’t operate anymore without that sort of necessity.” Principal Chris Wallace of Pickens High School also addressed the BOE. He emphasized teacher feedback during his presentation, sharing the teachers’ opinions of the service. Wallace ended the superintendent report on digital learning by thanking the board for providing itslearning to the schools.
COVID-19 Status Report
District Health Director Gail Smith also addressed the Board of Education during the September meeting. She began her COVID-19 status report saying, “We’ve been in this school year now well over a month, and so it’s time to reevaluate our Covid practices and see if we need to adjust anything.” She pointed out the recent quadrupling of COVID-19 cases among children across the state of Georgia. She then shared that from July 26 through Sept. 2 a total of 1646 individuals in the district either tested positive, were exposed, or were suspected of being COVID-19 positive. Out of the 1646 cases, 316 were confirmed positive through rapid, PCR, or at-home tests.
She then stressed the effectiveness of the district’s mitigation strategies. Out of the 316 confirmed cases, only 57 were determined to be school transmissions. Smith explained, “If we, as a school district, were not doing contact tracing and quarantine, [those confirmed cases] would have been spreading that virus.” Citing the increased infectiousness of the Delta Variant, she told the board those 57 individuals would have infected an additional 342 people at minimum. “We’re saving lives,” Smith said.
Smith then brought up the “attack rate”, or the severity threshold, of COVID-19. She explained that when 3% of a given population tests positive for the flu, mitigation strategies need to be put in place. Comparing the flu to COVID-19, she noted that all Pickens County elementary schools are below the 3% threshold. Smith specifically pointed out Tate Elementary’s 0.61% attack rate. She then noted that during the 2021-2022 school year only two students and one staff member have been hospitalized, and there are no recorded deaths.
At the end of her presentation, Smith highlighted again the importance of community action—vaccinations, masks and mitigation strategies. She concluded the meeting by turning to the community. Smith urged, “If there are any parents listening: the biggest thing we can do to reduce the numbers at these campuses is for the children 12 and up to be vaccinated.”
JASPER, Ga. – It took a little more than a month for the Pickens County Board of Education to release the financial fallout regarding the termination of Dr. Rick Townsend and the future contingency plan. Consequently, it leaves many hesitant to trust the board after some members reversed course from their original expectations.
In previous statements, Chairwoman Sue Finley had hoped to retain Townsend in a different capacity while trying to find a budget-neutral solution. After weeks of back and forth between both Townsend and the school board, it was clear that both parties were not going to get what they wanted.
On February 26, Phil Landrum, attorney for the Pickens County School Board, issues a Press Release that quickly went viral. In the one-page letter, Landrum starts by highlighting the reorganization of the front office. The reorganization strategy was inspired by Tony Young, the school system’s acting Superintendent. Young’s plan, pitched in a previous interview, called for eliminating the Assistant Superintendent’s position and the Chief Officer. The school system hopes to save $565,604.88 over the next couple of years between those two positions.
Landrum went on to say that the citizens should ultimately see a net benefit after a heavy loss the school system is set to take from the payout of Townsend. The school system will have to pay Townsend two years of salary at $406,014.73. After FICA payments and Workers Compensation payments are made, taxpayers can expect to pay $421,699.50 in total. For many vocal citizens that opposed this decision, this was an inevitable fear come true.
In a post made through a social media group Impact Pickens, Brian Rittenberry also acts as an administrator to said group vowed that he would proceed with a petition to recall some of the Board of Education members. In a conversation with Election Supervisor Julianne Roberts, any petition would exclude Tommy Gartrell and Steve Smith because a recall cannot be made on an elected official in their first, or last, 180 days of their term in office.
Roberts confirms that no one has requested a petition from her office.
While opposition to the board decision made some take a proactive approach, Townsend took to his social media account to say that he’s ready to move on from the issue.
“Yes, I’m disappointed I’m not able to complete some of the goals that I had, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future change in Pickens,” said Townsend. “There was no wrongdoing on my part and I fell victim to politics, but knew that was a possibility when I agreed to accept the position. It’s time to move on and continue to make a positive difference in the community and spend more time with my family.”
JASPER, Ga. – On February 23, The Pickens County Board of Education officially cut ties with former school Superintendent Rick Townsend.
In a meeting that lasted no more than six minutes, the school board went straight to business without a pledge or invocation.
Ultimately, the board voted 3-2 to terminate Townsend’s contract. Board Chair Sue Finley and Board Members Aaron Holland and Steve Smith voted in favor of the termination. Vice Chair Tommy Gartrell and Board Member Tucker Green both voted not to terminate.
Perhaps the evening’s biggest surprise was the lackluster crowd that barely made a dent in the room. The 4 p.m. start time didn’t help matters as the meeting either conflicted with work schedules or school athletic events were happening that night.
Prior to the vote, Board Member Tucker Green openly voiced his objection, calling the decision “reckless.”
“This is a reckless decision, and it’s not in the best interest of our students or our district,” said Green. “We need to get back in a position in this community and in this school district where we focus on the students we serve.”
Board Member Tommy Gartrell echoed Green’s opposition as he talked about the economic consequences in the future.
“I want to make clear, there are better use for our resources financially than this decision,” said Gartrell.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGsjD09ue18
Early on during the process, Finley was optimistic that a budget-neutral resolution could be reached with Townsend not leaving but instead taking on a revised role within the school system. However, based on the results of yesterday’s decision, Townsend and the school board were too far apart. Ultimately, this leaves taxpayers on the hook.
After the meeting had adjourned, FYN asked Finley for further comment regarding the board’s reasoning to let Townsend go. Finley referred us to Phil Landrum, attorney for the Pickens County Board of Education. He, too, declined to comment. Finely abruptly left the building with a police officer by her side.
Tony Young will remain as acting interim Superintendent.
Through a press release later that day, the school board did acknowledge that while the termination was amicable, Townsend’s dismissal is without cause.
The Pickens County BOE heard about ESPLOST and named a new board member at Thursday’s meeting.
New board member named
Aaron Holland was selected to fill the vacant seat on the board of education. The unexpired term of Joeta Youngblood was left vacant after she resigned in late August due to a change of residency which put her out of District Two, where she served. District Two covers Talking Rock, Truckwheel and Big Ridge.
According to school attorney Phil Landrum, three people submitted letters of interest, but one did not live in the district and was disqualified. The board selected by unanimous vote, Holland.
Dr. Rick Townsend, superintendent of Pickens County Schools, said plans were being made for the next Education Special Local Option Sales Tax, or ESPLOST and encouraged those in attendance to support the tax.
“It helps with the bottom line when we have to purchase buses or technology,” he said. “We want people to see how it’s used.”
Townsend added that previous ESPLOST projects had saved the system money, even allowing them to roll back the millage rate.
He pointed to Pickens Junior High School extensive renovations and how upgrading and renovating current structures to get 15-20 more years of use out of them rather than building new facilities was more practical.
“It’s a better use of taxpayer money,” he said.
He explained the one-percent sales tax was not a new tax, but a continuation of the the current ESPLOST that was in place. The funds allow the school district to fund capital improvement projects without using property tax revenue.
Future plans include:
- Construction of an agriculture facility at the junior high school and the high school.
- Upgrades at each school such as HVAC, LVT flooring, and roofing.
- Remodel of Pickens High School such as lights, ceilings, floorings, restrooms, kitchen, and cafeteria.
- Upgrades to the security system at facilities within the district.
- Upgrades to technology infrastructure and providing additional access points for technology use.
- VoIP, voice over IP technology, telephone system throughout the district.
- Transportation fuel station and management system replacement.
Anita Walker, Director of Curriculum and School Improvement shared how the Growing Readers initiative was changing how reading was done in the elementary schools.
“It’s very fluid, flexible,” said Anita Walker, Director of Curriculum and School Improvement.
The program allows students to read independently on the appropriate reading level while the teacher meets with a few students daily to give specific reading strategies
geared toward each student’s needs.
Walker said that based on Milestone Assessment data, Pickens County had the highest district wide English, Language Arts average in five years but 54 percent of the the fourth-grade students were not reading at proficient levels.
SPLOST sees a jump
Amy Smith, chief financial officer for the district, told the board that the SPLOST revenue showed a significant increase in August. The school system received $800,136.64 in SPLOST revenue, a significant increase from the $506,196.14 monthly average. Although she was still researching what caused the increase, several counties received funds erroneously sent to the state fund.
A member of the Pickens County Board of Education stepped down today. Joeta Youngblood resigned, according to a press release, due to a change in residency. The board will select a person from the District Two where Youngblood served. The District Two area covers Talking Rock.
She began serving on the board in January 2019 and there are about 28 months left on her term.
The Board will meet at a later date to discuss the selection process referenced in the local act.
SEE BOE MEETING DATES CANDIDATES TALK ABOUT RUNNING FOR COMMISSIONER CHAIR POST
The Pickens County Board of Education heard plans for Monday’s back to school and approved several measures, including a tentative FY 21 budget and heard a presentation about Hill City’s recognition as a wildlife habitat.
Amy Smith, Chief Financial Officer, said the system looks good financially despite the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t have any furloughs and the instructional funds are intact,” said Smith. “I feel very good about this budget and I have to work with it. We didn’t have to cut a lot from any one area.”
She said this was achieved due to a decrease in expenditures, even though the system lost several million dollars.
“We may have to dip into reserves,” she conceded.
The system currently has two budgets open, FY20 and FY21. The FY20 budget will be closed in October and they have collected 99.94-percent of revenue. Smith added they will continue to collect property tax funds.
The board passed several spending resolutions until the budget could be completed. Under a spending resolution, the system can spend 1/12th of the previous year’s budget. Smith said the system has been well below the amount.
The board also approved a spending resolution for September, allowing time for the FY21 budget to be finalized.
Back to School
Students start returning to school on Monday, Aug. 17 under a staggered schedule.
Read the reason by the change in plans for Pickens' students to return to school, here.
Virtual School Update
Pickens Virtual Academy begins Aug. 17, 2020 for all students. Anita Walker, director of the program, said.
Walker said nearly 25-percent, 1,100 students, have enrolled in the virtual academy with more expected to enroll shortly after the start of school. These are students who have medical reasons for doing on-line school.
Because the program became much larger than anticipated, they have added staff to ensure it runs smoothly.
The elementary level has eight full time teachers, one for each grade level plus three supporting teachers. In addition, there will be 13 part-time teachers.
The middle school will have four full time teachers, one for each subject, one special education teacher, and four part-time teachers for gifted and special education support.
The junior high school will have one full time teacher and 31 part-time teachers while the high school will have 22 part-time teachers.
See the presentation here.
Planning for changes
The school system has a pandemic team in place with guidelines for parents and school staff on how to handle suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Smith said the system has built a great relationship with Piedmont Mountainside Hospital and the local health department to develop plans, including what happens where there is a possible exposure versus what happens with there is a confirmed case.
“We’ve had 39 reports this week between students and staff and school hasn’t started,” said Smith. Parents are encouraged to stay in contact with the schools about their children who may have been exposed.
There will be a short form for parents to fill out if their child has been exposed or has a confirmed case. The system will then initiate contact tracing in order to keep accurate data.
Hill City Elementary
The school was recognized as a Certified National Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. The school features a garden and pond with flowers that attract a variety of insects and animals, giving the school a hands on, outside place to learn.
Check back for a full story.
In other board news, the board:
- Approved age-appropriate sex education curriculum for grades Kindergarten through ninth grade that includes how to recognize abuse.
- Approved a resolution supporting reconstruction of a bridge on Ga. Hwy. 136.
Donna Enis is on the ballot for District 1 seat on the Pickens County Board of Education run-off election on August 11, 2020. Voting is already underway and candidate Donna Enis, who is currently serving on the board, has answered some questions to help voters decide how to cast their ballots.
Why do you feel like you are the most qualified for this position?
I am a graduate of Pickens High School. I spent 30 years as a teacher and coach, educating and nurturing hundreds of young people prior to my retirement in 2017. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Middle Grades Education from North Georgia College; a master’s degree in Health and Physical Education from West Georgia College and an Education Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Piedmont College.
List your qualifications/experience that is applicable to this position.
Last July, I was offered the opportunity to fill the remaining term of a vacant position on the BOE. In the short time I have been a board member, I have found it to be a complex job and a responsibility I do not take lightly. As a retired educator, my experience helps me understand the role the board plays in the achievement and education of students, while allowing me the opportunity to make a positive impact and give back to the community in a meaningful way.
What do you want the voters to know about you that will help them make a decision?
Being a member of the Board of Education is a commitment I take very seriously. To be a well informed and effective board member, you have to be willing to study and understand the complexities of the decisions the board must make. If elected to the position, I pledge to continue to work collaboratively with the other members of the board, together with Dr. Townsend, to lead our system and provide opportunities for all staff to continue to grow and develop in their positions, which forms the foundation of an excellent school system. Working together, we can focus on making strategic decisions that will help our school system thrive even in the face of challenges. As a former teacher, I understand that education is not a one size fits all approach. It is our duty to offer diverse opportunities that enrich each student, from our youngest learners to our high schoolers. At the end of the day, we want to produce graduates that not only have knowledge learned in the classroom, but also a confident, thoughtful and insightful young person ready to move on to the next phase of their life; whether that is college, technical school or as a productive member of the workforce.
What are some issues in the Board of Education would you like to improve on?
First of all, no one could have predicted the events that have taken place these last months. We are fortunate that Pickens County schools are financially stable and carry no debt, but this unprecedented event will definitely impact the school system’s budget and future planning. Currently we are looking at a cut of approximately 10%. Working with the administration and superintendent, moving forward, my commitment is to keep the maximum amount of money we can going directly to the education of the students. These cuts will first come from areas that will have the least impact on the day to day classroom instruction — without resorting to teacher furloughs.
Secondly, the system’s most critical goals are built around providing a quality education to every child in a safe environment where learning can take place, whether that is in a face-to-face environment or a virtual experience. As our community grows and changes and faces challenges, we as a school system, have to make adaptations. I have witnessed firsthand, the positive relationship that develops when teachers, students and parents work together, which reaffirms that we must continue to equip teachers and staff with the support and tools they need to help students succeed to their full potential. It goes without saying, parents know and want what is best for their children and their opinion and input is an important part of the school system’s success. If the board is committed to give teachers and students all of the resources we possibly can, I feel parents will work alongside us to accomplish our goals.
In thinking about the future, as in any system, there is always room for improvement. I will continue to work diligently to support the school system as we continue to find innovative ways to provide strong academics and extra-curricular activities that meet the needs of each student.
How can voters contact you with questions?
List your social media.
SEE WHO IS ON YOUR BALLOT AT MY VOTER PAGE.
Tommy Gartrell is on the ballot for District 1 seat on the Pickens County Board of Education run-off election on August 11, 2020. Voting is already underway and candidate Gartrell, has answered some questions to help voters decide how to cast their ballots.
Why do you feel like you are the most qualified for this position?
List your qualifications/experience that is applicable to this position.
What do you want the voters to know about you that will help them make a decision?
What are some issues in the Board of Education would you like to improve on?
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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.
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
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.
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.
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.