BOE could final adopt FY 19 Budget Thursday

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education has met its two meeting requirement and could be set to approve final adoption of their $43 million budget.

If adopted, the item will change from the tentative budget to the official FY 19 budget for the BOE. Any wishing to speak on the topic should contact the BOE before Thursday to sign up.

The budget is estimated to see a $2,996,931 shortcoming of Revenues under Expenditures draining the fund balance down to $17,403,069 but June 30, 2019.

Recent years have seen similar budgets set with millions over revenue, they have also seen the budget change drastically throughout the year. The FY 18 budget could see the Revenue under Expenditures reduced to $160,392 by the end of June according to a new amendment presented in the Boards June Work Session.

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BOC discusses new school zoning for BOE

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – During their June meeting, the Gilmer Board of Commissioners saw an item requesting a rezoning to PI-1 for the Gilmer County Board of Education.

This item is a part of planning and preparations for a new school to be built on the school’s Clear Creek property next to Clear Creek Middle School (CCMS). The school is set to replace the current Ellijay Primary School (EPS) as part of a plan to reorganize the school system.

This item is far ahead of any concrete plans on construction as the BOE is awaiting approval of a new ESPLOST referendum before they could move forward with this construction project.

During their work session, the Board of Commissioners discussed the item. With all three in favor of the school, the only discussion came from understanding what impact the project would have on the counties surrounding infrastructure. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller asked what changes would need to be done to the roads like Clear Creek Road and Yukon Road. Miller inquired if they would need deceleration lanes or traffic lights. While no solid answer is available at this time due to the project not even being out of idea stages without ESPLOST money to support it, there did become an understanding between the two entities for continued communication.

With CCMS already at the location, there may not be much, if any, change in school vehicle traffic like buses on the road, however, effectively “moving” EPS to the new location would obviously increase traffic on Yukon Road and Clear Creek Road from staff and parents.

While the BOC did approve the rezoning request, Miller’s comments at the work session made it apparent that they will be looking for constant communication on the project so that they may prepare the streets accordingly. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and two members of the Board of Education, Chairman Michael Bramlett and Vice Chair Ronald Watkins, were on hand during the BOC Regular Meeting to speak with the Commissioners before the meeting.

FYN’s current understanding of the project is that discussion is still going on how to maintain the communication. There is no information yet on if this would take the form of a report during commissioner’s meetings, a liaison between the two boards, or something else.

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Georgia grant sees high scores for Gilmer

Bobcat's Corner

ELLIJAY, Ga. – May 3 saw exciting news for Gilmer county as State School Superintendent Richard Woods made the announcement of Gilmer County Charter School System as the second highest score in the Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading in Georgia (L4GA) grant by the Georgia Department of Education.

Over sixty districts applied for funding and a panel of trained reviewers scored the applications.  The districts with the highest scores received the grant.

Chief Academic Officer of the Gilmer County Charter School System Lottie Mitchell said, “We are so very proud of the hard work and dedication of our site facilitators, district, community and school literacy teams.”

According to Mitchell, Georgia was awarded a total of $61,579,800 over three years through the federal Striving Readers grant competition. Ninety-five percent of the funds are sub-granted to 38 districts.  The funds are distributed on per-pupil allocations to achieve the goal of the L4GA initiative, to improve student literacy learning.

With this grant in our county, Gilmer will receive approximately $1.46 million dollars over the next three years. These funds are allocated for students in schools within a feeder system (including birth-age 5 childcare providers and elementary, middle, and high schools).

Gilmer County Charter Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes expanded on the excitement saying,  “As your superintendent, I could not be any prouder of this team! The dedication and commitment to the students and teachers in our district is overwhelmingly outstanding!  I am so proud to work alongside of all of you every day!”

Though the school system does not have specific details yet on exactly how the money will be spent, Mitchell states it is to be dedicated specifically to the improvement of literacy in the schools.

“It’s a great day for literacy in Georgia,” said Woods. “I am confident the $61 million Georgia is now able to invest in local schools and communities to support literacy will impact the lives of thousands of students. I commend each L4GA grant recipient – the competition was fierce as we received an unprecedented number of applications. Making sure Georgia students are reading on grade level remains mission-critical, top-priority work for us and I have no doubt these districts – who submitted clear, focused, student-centered plans to improve literacy outcomes – are going to use these funds to make a tremendous difference for kids.”

Additionally, the $61,579,800 Georgia received through the federal Striving Readers grant competition, the “parent grant” Georgia received from the federal government and is subgranting to 38 of its districts, was the highest award received by any state. Georgia was one of three states to receive the funding a second time after the initial grant cycle (2011-2016).

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UNG gets state funds for new campus

News

 

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a recent interview on FYNTV, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston made an announcement regarding the University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Blue Ridge campus.

Ralston confirmed in the interview that the state has set $5.5 million into a line item to establish a new standalone “brick and mortar” building for the university. The budgeted funds are set for construction only, meaning that the university will be responsible for locating and acquiring a spot suitable for the new campus. Once the college purchases the location, they can utilize the state funds for their new building to expand into that new home in Fannin County.

As such, the location of this facility is yet to be determined. According to Campus Director of Blue Ridge for UNG, Sandy Ott, she hopes to begin construction as soon as possible. Ott spoke with FetchYourNews (FYN) about the fund allocation saying, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to expand the Blue Ridge campus. We are so excited for the opportunities for the students in our region. This is going to have an impact, truly.”

Ott noted some of the major capabilities that a standalone campus will allow including expanded course offerings, lab spaces for sciences and core classes, as well as development space to cater to the region’s specific needs. While college officials are still searching for the best location at this time, Ott confirmed that they are still very early in the process and uncertain if the new standalone campus will see them completely leaving their current location just off of 515 at 83 Dunbarton Farm Road.

UNG has been at that location since 2015, offering opportunities such as dual-enrollment courses for high school students, a full-time program for first-time freshmen, courses for adult learners getting started or returning to college, and continued education programs.

With the passing of the state’s budget, this is now set for UNG to utilize when available. Ott assures FYN they are moving quickly to take advantage of the funds to increase their services as soon as possible for students. See more by checking out the announcement at 14 minutes into FYNTV’s video below.

 

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Facilities plan discussed at board retreat

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education has detailed the plans for their buildings over the next five years at a board retreat in March.

The plan incorporates the use of Instructional Units (IUs) in relation to state and federal programs utilized to spread funding to counties based on their “need.” By better planning facility use and more details on those facilities, the Gilmer County Charter School System (GCCSS) hopes to maximize their IUs to secure as much funding as possible from these state programs.

The funding itself, however, comes in the form of reimbursements instead of pre-project funds. Most citizens should recall this is the same process the board is currently using a part of its coming renovations at Gilmer High School (GHS). The applications will allow for partial reimbursement of a few parts of the project including items like roofing and HVAC work.

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes

Additionally, the board retreat allowed members to discuss and see the current plan on what they will be seeking in terms of facility changes and movements to come. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes asserted that the plan is the board’s current intentions for the future, but that it was also not set in stone. Parts of the plan rely on approval of the next Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) for example. She also told FetchYourNews that the plan could change with major unforeseen circumstances.

Allowing the flexibility to change gives the school board a cushion for contingencies and alterations while also giving the guide for the next five years.

The plan described will see the board finishing up the GHS renovations before adding onto Mountain View Elementary school. The board is planning to have Ellijay Primary School (EPS), Ellijay Elementary School (EES), and Mountain View Elementary School converted into full, preschool through fifth grade (P-5) elementary schools. Looking even further ahead, the board is also discussing moving what is now EPS to a new building on the board’s property near Yukon, near Clear Creek Middle School.

As a part of this conversion, the three P-5 elementary Schools would serve their local districts where they are located. Students would then move to Clear Creek Middle School as the county’s sole middle school for grades six through eight. Moving up from there, students would attend Gilmer High School’s campus with the current Gilmer Middle School serving on campus as a ninth-grade academy and the current GHS building serving grades 10 through 12.

One possibility could see EPS becoming a preschool to second grade with EES as third grade to fifth grade until the new building can be completed, but regardless the plan will ultimately end in the three P-5 schools.

That new facility would have the board moving away from Ellijay Primary School, avoiding the damages from its location in the flood plain and moving out of a nearly 50-year-old building, as well as having the new building in a better location for its district.

Once the new building for EPS is completed, the board wants to look at EES for needed renovations at that time. According to Gilmer Schools Assistant Superintendent, Administrative Services, Stuart Sheriff, completing EES renovations should see a potential 10-year period where the board’s facilities would only need normal maintenance, requiring no major renovations.

With people still asking why the board does not utilize their old location for Oakland Elementary, Dr. Wilkes noted that Oakland can only house 247 students making it too small to be utilized. She also noted other issues the board has faced with the location, including sewage leasing and relative location to other schools and district possibilities.

With the plan set, the board has already been moving on GHS renovations and will begin phase one of the two-phase project this summer.

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Reality Day sees success despite reduced numbers

Community

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Sophomores of Gilmer High School (GHS) were treated to the annual Reality Day that is put on every March.

Sophomores from GHS make decisions about cell phones and activities among others at the Entertainment station of their budget process.

Sophomores from GHS make decisions about cell phones and activities among others at the Entertainment station of their budget process.

Set 10 years into the students’ future, the day sets up budgetary needs for a student offering randomized “life-situations” like number of children, marital status, and job description and pay. They take this monthly income and travel to different stations in order to budget their life and what they want including cell phones, Internet, clothing, transportation, home, charity, insurance, and even unexpected events based upon random card draw.

Volunteers from across the county help the day progress through four groups throughout the day. Gilmer Family Connection Director Merle Naylor, who organizes the event, told FetchYourNews it’s the volunteers she relies on to make the day happen. Allowing students a glimpse of the general is what she points to as the real meaning of the day, but she also enjoys the time for citizens to volunteer showing that the students matter and are worth the time taken for the day.

Sophomores from GHS prepare for Reality Day with friends at the Ellijay Civic Center.

Sophomores from GHS prepare for Reality Day with friends at the Ellijay Civic Center.

This year saw a few hiccups, as far fewer students showed up for the day than were expected. Several issues were noted as contributing factors from students not getting permission slips to others being absent. Naylor commented on the reduced number saying, “I think it went well, maybe not as well as last year because of the number of student were probably a third of what we’ve had in past years. But the students certainly learned, and I’ve heard some comments from volunteers that they actually learned more because they could spend more time with the students … I look at in the positive that if a few of the students gained the knowledge, then it was well worth it all.”

Naylor went on to note that she takes a lot personally from the day to know that people are willing to volunteer for the project. The interaction with the students goes a long way, but more, the interaction with each other builds the community support of the students and of each other.

 

Be sure to check out FYN’s Facebook page for more photos from Reality Day 2018.

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Gilmer Prepares for Severe Storms

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued warning for most of Georgia involving the coming severe storms.

Gilmer is included as the eastern half is set for severe storms, wind, and possibly hail. However, the western half of Gilmer is included in the NWS “Enhanced Risk” warnings, meaning citizens should be prepared for massive rainfall, large hail, potential tornadoes, and damaging wind reaching up to 60 mph.

While citizens are preparing for all the potential dangers, most are afraid of the possibility of flooding in their area. One citizen reported pea sized hail already falling outside at the East Ellijay Walmart.

The Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett spoke with FYN about the coming storms saying, “Hopefully, it  will move through the county without incident. Nevertheless, our people are geared up and ready to go.”

Being aware of the warnings, Pritchett says the Public Safety Department is ready, but waiting to gauge the intensity of the storms. He suggested extra preparations for all citizens living near creeks and other waterways saying that in Gilmer county, “Small creeks and other waterways could rise quickly. We just ask everyone to be prepared.”

As Public Safety continues preparations and monitoring of the potential risks, the National Weather Service is continuing updates to the storm, “At 1243 PM EDT…a strong thunderstorm was near Roy, or 11 miles east of Ellijay…moving east at 40 mph.”

Some locationsthe NWS indicated in the path of this storm include “Dahlonega, Suches, Amicalola Falls State Park, Camp Merrill, Springer
Mountain Shelter, Len Foote Hike Inn, Black Gap Shelter, Stover Creek Shelter, Hawk Mountain Shelter, Nimblewill, Roy, Gaddistown, Gooch, and Mountain Shelter.”

Gilmer Schools have even cancelled all afternoon activities for today, March 19, due to the storms, although they are planning to move ahead with their scheduled Board Meeting at 6 pm.

Stay with FetchYourNews as update continue on the storm’s severity and potential damage in the county. Again, if you begin to see water rising near your homes, seek shelter elsewhere to avoid being trapped. This became a real issue to citizens with flooding over recent years.

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Gilmer students “Walk-Out”

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With a nationwide “walk-out day” today, Gilmer County saw its own high school students leaving class and marching onto the front lawn in remembrance of 17 dead last month.

However, those attending the walk-out glimpsed a different side of these students than many may have expected. There was no chanting, no loud shouts of political ideals. Instead, somewhere close to 50 students stood in 30 degree weather silent, remembering the 17 dead. A short speech by two freshmen, Justin Gooch and Jordan Henderson, set the tone for the 20 minute walk-out. More than a tone, though, they stood to become a voice of those 50 gathered.

As seen in the video, Gooch told his classmates about his hope to change his school to a “more welcoming environment.” The voice rang through the crowd as others stood to echo his sentiments, including one student, who called himself J.B., that stood on the bench to say “we are all the same.” It was 20 minutes of high school students telling each other what they could do to change things, and how they could be different in today’s time.

Junior Grace Kruse commended those in attendance for their bravery in standing up for the change they wanted. She told her fellow students to be proud of themselves.

From left to right, Freshmen Jordan Henderson and Justin Gooch and Juniors Ashlyn Jenkins and Grace Kruse lead today's "Walk-out" through moments of prayer and prepared speeches.

From left to right, freshmen Jordan Henderson and Justin Gooch and juniors Ashlyn Jenkins and Grace Kruse led today’s “Walk-out” through moments of prayer and prepared speeches.

Starting through group chats, according to Kruse and fellow junior Ashlyn Jenkins, the event was organized and even brought to administration this week. Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley spoke with FetchYourNews (FYN) briefly, confirming that the students had spoken with administration about the walk-out. She shared with FYN her feelings on the events saying, “If people haven’t been in the high school in the last five years and all they hear about or see is the crazy stuff on social media and that perception that people have of the youth today, then they are mistaken. Kids these days are smart; they’re aware. They’re compassionate. I see a lot of compassion in our young adults and that’s what was displayed today.”

Kruse repeated her thoughts after the event saying that she wanted to encourage her generation to use their voice, a loud voice that proves a difference from the common belief that they, as a generation, do not care. Jenkins told FYN that today meant there is a chance for our nation to change, seeing so many young people willing to stand up for something. It is a feeling of hope for their generation.

The feeling continued along with students saying they did not expect so many people to attend the walk-out. Gooch said he knew he was going to walk out of class regardless of the possibility of being the only one, but seeing over 50 people on the front lawn was encouraging after only seeing four people walk out of his own class. “I see the change proving that most people do care … They want us to have a better environment,” Gooch stated.

The idea of the movement in Gilmer focused on changing their environment to stop bullying and ostracizing those who may have mental illness. They passed around ribbons to wear. Gooch told FYN the conversation they are trying to have is that the reason that most of these things are happening is bullying and pushing kids to these limits.

Though those present said there is a point later to talk about policy and/or gun control, they wanted today to be about human life and the importance of life, the importance of growing closer together. Kruse stated she wanted today to be about the 17 people who died, and the numerous more in other shootings.

The students noted a plan spreading through the nation about a potential march on Washington D.C. For today, however, these students say they do not want this to stop here. They hope there is more in Gilmer County. As they filtered back through the doors to return to their classes, they told FYN that they want a next step on this path to make their school better, they want a next step to make themselves better.

Students gather in front of GHS for a "Walk-out" on March 14, 2018.

Students gather in front of Gilmer High School for a “Walk-out” March 14, 2018.

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