ELLIJAY, Ga. – For months now, the Gilmer County Board of Education has been pushing to inform and prepare citizens for coming changes to the Gilmer County School System. This month was no different during their work session as the Board is moving further with security upgrades and coming to a close on bus routes and school preferences for families.
School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs shared that the school system is altering their plans for the Centegix Security Systems’ “Crisis Alert System” that is being integrated in each school except Ellijay Primary and Gilmer Middle. Therein lies the change as Downs said they are going to go ahead and put the security systems into these last two schools as they prepare to change Gilmer Middle School to the College and Career Academy.
As for Ellijay Primary, the Board still plans to build the new Clear Creek Elementary School and move the security system there when built. Downs said the modular nature of the system will make it easy to move. She also added that they wanted to get the systems in while they had the state grant to help with the costs.
While the contract did come under scrutiny at one point, the installation has continued and Centegix currently has the hardware in all the schools and is now working on the network and inclusion into the current schools’ systems like intercoms.
As they move forward with the building of the new school and changing the school pathway of students from Kindergarten to 12th Grade, the Board recently approved new districts in the county. Along with the districts came the option for parents to enter a “school zone preference,” option to attend a different school with the parents providing drop-off and pick-up. Downs announced in Monday’s meeting that the application for this program is coming to a close on April 30, 2019.
She stated in the meeting that many families have already applied for the preference saying, “So far, we have had a tremendous amount of participation in that. As of this morning, we have 175 entries, and some of those entries have two or more children.”
However, simply applying does not guarantee acceptance as Downs further stated that system administrators will not even look at the applications until they have all been collected and the application window ends. While she did say she thinks the system will be able to accommodate most of the applications, they won’t know trends or finalized numbers until they go through the applications.
It is the Board’s intention to assign certain buses to each school to both increase a driver’s familiarity and connections in that school as well as lowering bus travel times as they would not need to travel across town to each school and to other elementary school districts. This would still leave Clear Creek Middle School and Gilmer High School routes spread across the county. Wilkes noted the possible issues coming from the need to keep elementary age children seated for more than two hours on a bus that will be alleviated with these new bus routes.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Two coaches spoke during the Gilmer Board of Education’s (BOE) Public Comments this week on a policy change close to approval.
The item is in its second reading this month for the BOE and is set for the vote on Thursday, March 21, 2019. The contention on the policy comes with changes to Community Coaches. The policy, IDFC Community Coaches, is seeing changes in requirements, pay, and eligibility for those wishing to serve, as noticed by the strikes and bold print in the policy. Those who spoke had each had one issue in common, though. The pay limit on community coaches, “lay coaches” as they are also called.
First to speak, Softball Coach Kim Charles addressed the board saying that as a head coach, she had always wanted to make the major decisions for her team. She felt that the revision was restrictive to the teams who use lay coaches more. She advocated for these coaches calling them “great people” and “very involved in the community.” She went further saying she wanted to remain loyal to these lay coaches who have and will serve in sports programs to the benefit of the students involved.
Charles said she didn’t want this to be a cut to current coaches, turning into a force to drive off those who have volunteered loyally over the years. She said they are the ones who have tried so hard to build and improve the kids when the head coaches need help. These coaches, said Charles, have proven themselves in their areas. She also pointed out that several of the sports that have seen success over the years have had long years of the same lay coaches, providing the stability needed to foster that kind of success.
Second to speak, Track Coach Josh Snider echoed the feelings that restricting and limiting the community coaches of the county would only detriment the sports and those students involved. He noted that the track programs work with three lay coaches and go through certifications at their own costs to become certified for their positions. The revisions in this policy also require GHSA community coach training and a rules clinic and assessment to become certified to coach their desired sport.
Snider also commented that he wanted to add to the policy that community coaches might also have their past experience in the sport with Gilmer Schools under consideration when they apply. When this is considered, Snider noted you might have a coach who meets the requirements but didn’t “mesh well” with the coaching staff or students in that sport.
He further agreed with the sentiments spoken by Charles as he noted several sports who are seeing success and past lay coaches who have also been well received and went on to further and enhance their sports and areas.
The third speaker, District Athletic Director Rodney Walker, began his address quoting a statistic of Gilmer Schools utilizing 75 percent of its coaches as certified staff coaches and 25 percent of them as lay coaches. Walker urged the board to move forward with the revisions. Though he said he had no issue with lay coaches, he noted that having so many puts the county at risk. He said he was thankful that the county had many willing to serve and admitted that there has been success with community coaching. Walker pointed out that the intent isn’t to get rid of lay coaches, instead limiting them in favor of certified personnel.
Walker said, “There’s no way that a guy that goes to college, or a lady goes to college, and they train and they get paid to do this job. And then we’re bringing people off the streets, and they may be good people, they may be great people, great coaches. But they shouldn’t make the same thing as a certified personnel. That’s just not right.” Walker pushed for the limited pay saying that the county needs to hire the best qualified people to teach in the school and be a part of the programs.
Walker also noted accusations that the revisions was put in place to give the football coaches more money. He said they have one coach they hired. He also said they were fortunate enough last year to have hired three coaches that now coach a second sport. He noted that his biggest push was to get coaches who are also in the school teaching. Walker said that these coaches who teach and coach build better relationships saying, “If we can get these people in the building, that’s what I think helps. You can’t tell me it doesn’t help to be able to have them.”
Ultimately, Walker said he is trying to take care of the system, to protect it.
This issue is already in the second reading before the board, meaning that if citizens are wishing to speak at the meeting or weigh in on the subject they must sign up with the Superintendent before Thursday to be allowed to speak at the regular session. Additionally, citizens are encouraged to speak with board-members about how they want their district’s representative to vote.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Road repair on Bobcat Trail after a gas line break during road work is completed and both lanes are operational from Old 5, at the Civic Center, to Gilmer High School.
According to Gilmer High School, “We will return to our regular drop off and pick up times and routines, effective Monday morning. In addition, we will return to our regular bell schedule. All students will attend Advisement on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and will be dismissed at 3:20. Early Dismissal for eligible students will resume on Thursday, March 21.”
Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs has stated that the return to open traffic has appeared to be business as usual so far. With no reports of issues with the traffic or the road’s condition, it seems parents and students driving to school will soon return to the way things were before the storm damage and gas line break.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A surprise even to him, he says, the Board of Commissioners officially announced Keith Kucera as the Public Safety Director of Gilmer County.
FYN caught up with Kucera to ask him how he felt about moving from his months as Interim into the full-term position.
He called it an honor to serve the citizens of the county in this position and looks forward to the coming months as he builds relations between the county and state and other local agencies. Kucera moves into the full term position alongside Daniel Kauffman as the Fire Chief of Gilmer.
Kucera retired from military after 25 years of active duty, where he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and moved to Ellijay where he says he never expected or looked to become a Director, yet when the opening came, he put forth his name and served in the interim. He lives here with his wife, Pamela.
It is a move that many firefighters seem happy with. As reported in “BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief,” many members of emergency services showed up at the commissioners meeting to show support for the direction the BOC was taking in their departments, though they didn’t know Kucera was being named as Director, FYN has come to understand that it had been internally announced before the meeting that Daniel Kauffman was taking the position of Fire Chief.
Kucera said the show of support “means the world” to him. Having the support of the men and women of the departments, and his family’s support as well, is “second to none. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I look forward to many years to come.”
According to Kucera, their support and the support of the Fire Chief is what will allow him to open up more to the duties of a Public Safety Director and allow the fire department to focus on what they do with a chief who can focus on that as well.
This is something Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before as he wanted to separate, at least, the fire chief position so as to not have one person pulled into too many directions and possibly detracting from the service offered to the department.
Kucera said, “The Public Safety Division is going to be able to branch out to the other agencies within the county and build more of a coalition-type group within the county to serve the public better as a whole.” Kucera went on to note that some other benefits could include a better chance at obtaining and retaining grants from the federal and state governments as well as combining into a consolidated public safety group in times of need.
Besides the day to day work, Kucera said one of his major projects to tackle as the Public Safety Director is building community relations. He stated, “I continue to pledge my service to the community, to the citizens, and I look forward to meeting every single person I possibly can.”
Throughout the entire time speaking with him, Kucera never mentioned how he wanted to lead the department or the type of leadership he wanted to show. Instead, numerous times, he repeated that he was anxious to continue “serving with” the firefighters and emergency response workers of the county.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Six months of discussion and debate come to a close this month as the Gilmer Board of Commissioners came to a 2-1 vote on the raises for Post Commissioners.
The raises were approved to move from their past salaries of 10 percent to the new salaries of 18 percent of the Chairman’s salary, having dropped from the original proposal of 20 percent. This approval is the second reading and, therefore, final approval.
Discussions have continued since last October, however, the last two months haven’t changed the discussion over the two votes with both Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson in favor, and Post Commissioner Dallas Miller dissenting. Miller noted both times that he only contested as he felt it wasn’t the “right time” for the new resolution.
These changes are approved at this time. However, they are not in effect. The official change to each Post Commissioner position salary will take effect at the next election of the position. Current Post Commissioners Karleen Ferguson and Dallas Miller will not receive these raises unless they are re-elected to the position.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Solidarity” was the word used by one fireman who spoke at Thursday’s, March 14, Commissioners Meeting.
That show of solidarity included 15 members of public safety’s fire and ems divisions as the stood together to tell the BOC that they are happy with the direction and way the Public Safety Department is moving.
To take that one step further, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris skipped ahead on his agenda to return the favor by officially announcing Keith Kucera as the full-time Public Safety Director. Kucera has served as interim since February 12, 2019, and now begins his service as the full time Director, leaving the interim title behind.
Kucera also released information to FYN that an official announcement has also been made about the full-time Fire Chief. Kucera was proud to announce Daniel Kauffman will be taking the position as Kucera tells FYN he comes from Ocala, Florida.
Kucera said that Kauffman brings 30 years of fire service experience from Marion County in Florida as a District Chief and a Battalion Chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.
Despite recent issues in the Fire Department, Paris stated to those present that they had no idea how much their public display meant to the Board.
Further, those fire and ems staff present offered standing applause to the announcement of Kucera to the Director position during the meeting.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Reaching all the way back to October of 2018, the proposal of wage increases for Post Commissioners finally reached the stage of First Reader this month.
This topic has been hotly debated, and even now, the public hearing saw more debate over the issue that has spanned five months and the changing of the Post 2 Commissioner. After a community push, successfully, to keep the issue in county instead of sending the topic to Atlanta for a vote, the discussion now moves to the actual topic of accepting or denying the proposed Post Commissioner salary raise from 10% to 18% of the Chairman’s Salary.
With only a couple people standing in the Public Hearing to speak, discussion centered on justifying the raise. Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson was asked about this, and replied with some statistics about her hours saying she has put in 134 hours since taking office at the new year. She calculated the pay versus hours and reported that she has received close to $7.74 /hr ($1,036.82 total pay over 134 hours).
Additionally, Dallas Miller was asked about his hours comparatively, if he has more or less than Ferguson, being a new commissioner and attending training. Miller admitted that the hours don’t go down as he said more people know who you are and will stop you to talk, email you, or call you.
Miller stated again, as he has in previous meetings, that he did feel it would have been better at a different time, and he ultimately voted no on the First Reader citing the same issues he noted in the public meeting about timing.
It wasn’t until another citizen, Brian Pritchard, spoke about his issues with the change. Among his own questions for justification, he eventually asked the Board to push the vote back to year end for citizens and commissioners to look at the raise.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that pushing this back that far could create a perception of conflict with the Post 1 Commissioner position so close to qualifying and re-election in 2020. Paris said he did not believe that it was necessary, and the board could avoid the conflict altogether by not pushing the issue off to year-end.
Taking the issue now would be far separated from any decisions on running again according to Paris.
The first reader was officially approved with Karleen Ferguson giving the motion, Charlie Paris giving the second, and the final vote passing on 2-1.