ELLIJAY, Ga. – After the August meeting of both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education, the commissioners reconvened for final approval for the collection of both millage rates in Gilmer County.
The Gilmer County Board of Education approved its Rollback Rate of 14.248 mills generating $16.8 million according to estimations by Gilmer County Financial Officer Sandi Holden. This rate was approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners for collection.
The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners approved its Rollback Rate of 6.898 mills generating about $9.7 million according to Holden. This rate was approved 2-1 by the board with Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote.
The Commissioners then approved the 1.5 mills bond rate for the county generating about $2 million according to Post Commissioner Dallas Miller.
The bond millage was called into question by local citizen Joene DePlancke who noted the county’s growth and bond refinancings that the county has done.
DePlancke said she wasn’t speaking in opposition to the 1 mill bond rate, but rather the extra half mill added later. She went on to say, “I think it is unfair to the citizens of this county to keep telling them you have to have [1.5 mill] for the bond payments when we collect more than enough from SPLOST to cover the refinanced bonds.”
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told DePlancke that the 2017 bond payment was significantly less due to the refinancing at the time. With that refinancing, that year’s payment was reduced, allowing the county to use the extra funds, but also having that payment show far less.
Paris went on to point out that the bond payments are continuing to increase as well. Both 2019 and 2020 will see increases. Holden said the 2020 payment is expected to total just over $4 million. The payments over the last few years could not be looked at, according to Paris, as a measure of what they will be going forward.
Paris also noted that the Commissioners had a discussion in their August meeting about reducing the half mill on the bond millage, but decided to keep it as the payments are increasing as well as facing major issues such as the leachate leakage at the county landfill. Paris said the commissioners ultimately decided to wait and revisit the idea of removing the half mill next year. Additionally, while the county could continue forward without the half mill and maintain the needs for bond payment and this landfill issue, they would have to abandon every plan and improvement planned for other areas like the road department.
DePlancke reiterated her concerns on the bond millage saying, “You’ll always have a reason to spend it… There are so many things that need to be done, but you put it on there for bond payment. I feel like that is not honest to the citizens. You’re using it for other things.”
Paris said he didn’t agree that they would never give the half mill back, but asked what DePlancke she would have the county do, if they dropped the half mill, for the capital needs for the road department?
DePlancke responded, “You’ve got all the numbers there. I can’t answer that off the top of my head, but I’d love to have a crack at it.”
As discussion continued, Miller spoke as well, defending the bond millage. He said, “Our facilities, our infrastructure in this county. We’ve made progress, we’ve done improvements, but they are getting very old relative to their life. The buildings, the roads, everything needs capital improvements to keep them in good operating and maintenance level. We are facing, in the future, a large amount of renovation, and maybe even replacement, of our facilities that will only come from the capital budget that we have. And that money that goes to the capital budget will only come from the SPLOST collections, in my mind.”
Miller went on to say that he estimated $10 million in needs for the county in the coming 10 years just to keep the buildings and facilities at their current level. He said he didn’t want to wind up in the situation again where the county needed to borrow money or sell bonds. He said the commissioners didn’t have a choice but to maintain the path of maintaining and improving the infrastructure.
The board approved keeping the 1.5 mills, without raising or lowering, through a unanimous vote.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With tomorrow set as the final day of delivery and closing out the “Stuff the Bus” event hosted by the Gilmer County Optimist Club, success is the word on everyone’s mouth as final tallies are being collected.
Those tallies showed, according to Event Chairwoman Molly Landry, that more citizens donated actual supplies than financial donations in recent years. While this is the first time she chaired the “Stuff the Bus” in its seven consecutive years of running, she did note that she had done similar events in south Louisiana in a community similar in size to Ellijay, Landry said this year’s event, “has been the most successful event I have been a part of.”
Landry said the club has collected $2,654 in financial donations for supplies, but the real surprise came when she said the schoolbus driver told her he had never seen the bus so full. There were only five empty seats on the bus and every other seat had “boxes on top of boxes, ” Landry said.
That may seem like a “close-but-not-quite-stuffed” kind of situation. However, according to Gilmer Optimist Club President Lisa Salman, the event’s success is only just beginning as they still have one more day of box collecting and deliveries to the Gilmer County Charter School System’s Board of Education.
Alongside citizens and business owners, Wal-Mart also offered a discount on the supplies purchased with the $2,654. Landry said they purchased everything from backpacks and notebooks for the kids to items like calculators and paper supplies for the classrooms.
The accomplishments of these volunteers were felt throughout the county, but especially in the Board of Education, the go-between for this supply drive and the students who benefit from it.
Pritchett said, “It’s very encouraging. We’ve got a lot of groups in our community that are constantly reaching out and helping with the school system.”
Pritchett went on to call it a “real strength” of the community that so many care for students and children, having not only the Optimist Club hosting, but businesses supporting them, and citizens donating.
With the event completed, these supplies will travel to the Board of Education. The administration will begin distribution as they respond to schools calling out for what they need for their students.
Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said, “I am always amazed at the incredible generosity of those in our community who donate both school supplies and funds to “Stuff the Bus.” Our school social worker and counseling department use the supplies throughout the year to help our neediest children to be prepared with school supplies. Our teachers appreciate all of the extra disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and Kleenex they receive to use in their classrooms.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Progress on constructing the new Clear Creek Elementary School is moving forward as the School System has officially redistricted the county based upon the concept of hosting three elementary schools.
This is the first step in kicking off the major changes to come in Gilmer’s Educations system in the next few years as renovations, redistricting, and redistributing students to different schools are all a part of the steps forward.
Some of these changes to come include a new elementary school to be built in the Clear Creek area and the current Gilmer Middle School facility to be converted to a College and Career Academy as part of Gilmer High School.
According to the Gilmer County Board of Education, “Each of the three elementary schools will serve students in pre-K through 5th Grade and Clear Creek Middle will serve all students in grades 6-8. Administration for each of the schools will remain stable. This plan will allow students to experience less transitions during critical early learning years and will improve efficiency of bus routes for community schools.”
Plans for the changes have been in place for over a year, included in the 2018 Spring Board Retreat, revolving around the Five-Year Facilities Plan which also include renovations upcoming and currently underway for Ellijay Elementary School and Mountainview Elementary. With the construction of the Clear Creek Elementary School, the BOE will not be using Ellijay Primary School. The school has been prone to floods and damage over its 50-year life.
This Board has presented a map (seen above) to clearly outline school zones using Highway 515 and Highway 282 as zone boundaries.
School System Administration said, “Letters will be sent to parents based on registered primary address confirming assigned school zone by April 12.”
However, with some citizens already saying they want a certain school, the system is looking to accommodate families who wish for their children to attend a school outside of their assigned school zone. The district will provide parents the opportunity to apply for “School Zone Preference.”
School Zone Preference:
Bus transportation will be provided only for the assigned school zones as presented on the map; however, a parent or guardian, may submit a School Zone Preference request to have their child possibly placed in another elementary school within our school system as long as the school district has determined that there is available classroom space at the requested school after all assigned students have been enrolled.
If a parent elects to exercise this School Zone Preference, the parent assumes all responsibility for transporting the student to and from the selected school. School bus transportation will be provided only for the school zone determined by the school zone map.
An application for School Zone Preference will be posted on the Gilmer Schools Website from April 15th- April 30th for parents to apply for the school they prefer their child to attend. Parents will be notified by May 15th if their request was fulfilled.
Students on an Attendance Support Team (AST) Contract at the time of registration for School Zone Preference will not be eligible for transfer. If a student, has been selected for the School Zone Preference and is placed on an Attendance Contract during the school year, they may be transferred back to the school zone determined by residence address so they can take advantage of school system transportation.
With these changes only months away, Parents are encouraged to look for these letters and follow up with the Board Representatives or the School Administration offices for more details on applications.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Citizens are questioning the Gilmer County Board of Education this week after reports have surfaced of the involvement of and connections between the school systems Superintendent, Dr. Shanna Downs, and her husband’s, Jeff Downs, career in a company that the school is now engaging to install a security system in the schools.
While allegations pointed that Shanna Downs financially benefited from this contract between the school and the company known as Centegix, where sources say Jeff Downs serves and Senior Vice President of Sales.
FYN looked deeper into the contract and Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was headed up by Gilmer Schools Director of Technology John Call. According to hid RFP listed, the criteria of the RFP included:
1. Bidder’s total proposed price
2. Product quality/appropriateness/compatibility/performance
3. Bidder’s qualifications/experience
4. Bidder’s ability to provide support/service
5. Bidder’s warranty/maintenance
6. Proposed product meeting the district’s present needs as well as future needs through
enhancements and upgrades.
Call headed the reviews and RFP process, according to Downs, who said, “When I realized that my husband would likely accept a position with Centegix in November, I notified the board and I placed our technology director, John Call, in charge of the competitive bidding process for the security system. I asked that I be left completely out of the process.”
Downs further stated that Call and Stuart Sheriff, Assistant Superintendent, contacted Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins Attorneys at Law on November 12 for legal advice. As they saw no problem after Downs recusal, Downs says she informed the Board of her husband’s potential future employment with Centegix. She says, “Mr. Call assembled a committee of building level administrators to review and score the responses to the Request for Proposals (RFPs). Details of that process can be found in our board minutes from December 13, 2018. Until that process was complete, I stayed unaware of the selection of the product.”
Downs made one further note on her husband’s involvement saying, “My husband began work with Centegix on December 3rd and will not make any commission off of the purchase.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is ending its last week in February celebrating the month of CTAE success in both the county and state.
February has been CTAE (Career, Technical and Agriculture Education) Month in Gilmer County. The official month is Gilmer Schools’ way of sharing the program with the public to showcase some of the highlights and accomplishments.
According to Gilmer Schools WBL (Work Based Learning) and YAP (Youth Apprenticeship Program) Coordinator Janet Davis, the CTAE program is all about connecting the dots between the pathways of education in order to prepare students to be successful as they transition to college and the workforce.
The success of these programs is a part of what new Board of Education Member Doug Pritchett alluded to in a recent interview when he explained that the county has seen more investment into the students in whatever path they choose through projects like the new Agricultural Center. While Pritchett has only been on the board for two months now, he was quick to point out these programs as an integral part of Gilmer’s recent progress.
Davis went further this month when she said in an official release, “CTAE classes provide career awareness, spark interests, identify aptitudes & abilities, teach skills, combine academic knowledge with specific career & technical knowledge and create co-ops, internships & apprenticeships.”
While we celebrate the major successes across the state like a fourth consecutive year being the number one state for business for the fourth year in a row by Site Selection
magazine, February focuses on the educational influences and foundations in that achievement.
The program utilizes career clusters framework as an instuctional and guidance model as students prepare to transition out of high school. Regardless of their paths to college, careers, or the workforce, CTAE equips the necessary skills for the industry ahead.
In Georgia Public Schools, 61.75% of middle schoolers and 67.88% of high schoolers enrolled in at least on CTAE class during the 2017-2018 school year. Davis noted that 19,394 students participated in the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) and 98.8% of employers would recommend the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program to other companies. She also pointed out that 49,911 students with pathway completion took the end of pathway assessments in FY 2017 as compared with 44,057 high school students in FY 2016 (a 13% increase).
These are just facts of the program, but success entails much more than facts. It is measured in the intangibles. Davis points to moments when she sees engaged students and inquisitive minds instead of blank stares and disinterest. She says that she sees the dots connect when she sees students smiles and listens to conversations about the future. Success is more that statewide facts and numbers, CTAE success is seen when individual growth takes place.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Entering the new year, the Gilmer County Board of Education began discussions about the plans of moving into Phase 2 of the High School Renovations this summer.
With talks going back and forth on Calendars and the possibility of state involvement in school calendars, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said that even starting in the first week of August as the current calendar plans are incorporating the summer construction plans. The uncertainty comes that if the State moves forward with recommendations to extend the summers with schools starting the first Monday of September, and ending around June 1.
While no indication comes on what the future may hold on this, Downs assured the Board that the plans for construction and summer renovations can be fit in with the school systems currently planned summer break.
Additionally, the Board elected its new officers for 2019 with nominations and approvals for Michael Bramlett to continue as Board Chairman and Ronald Watkins as Vice-Chair.
North Georgia – According to a recent article by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), a senate committee has recommended longer summers for Georgia Students.
Instead of quoting test scores, educators, or studies about student learning, the committee suggested a school year starting the first Monday of September, and ending around June 1.
The basis for this suggestion? Economic analysis.
According to the AJC’s article, the committee was devoid of teachers, school leaders, or PTA representatives. Their suggestion bypassed academics and said that the longer summer, roughly three months, would help tourism grow and increase summer workforce.
Taking a local response from Gilmer County Charter Schools System Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and Fannin County School System Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney, the consensus seems to be that these systems are appalled at the thought of economic interests waylaying the education system in favor on money.
Dr. Downs told FYN that shortening the year would not only decrease the breaks that the local school system has in place for students, but would make testing in the first semester almost impossible. She noted an immense testing impact if students were to go through first semester and Christmas, only to then come back in January for end of course testing.
A sentiment that was separately echoed by Dr. Gwatney who also noted how much work these school systems put into their calendars, over 6 months of effort and staff input are taken by each of these two school systems before a final handful of calendars are presented for community input in the Board of Education. Finally, the Board approves a final Calendar in the spring for the coming school year.
Additionally, Dr. Gwatney pointed out how far the effect of these calendars reach as he also brought in fellow administrators to speak on the issue.
Fannin County Schools Deputy Superintendent Betsy Hyde(heading up the District’s Charter), Fannin County Nutrition Director Candace Sisson (also the Calendar Committee Coordinator), and Fannin County Assistant Superintendent Robert Ensley (Administration and Personnel) all agreed that stepping into the local schools in such a way without any representation from schools on the committee was not the way the state should be looking at the issue. From the time spent working on the calendar to allowing each individual county to cater to their student’s and county’s needs, these representatives of Fannin County exerted the necessity of individualized calendars.
Downs also noted this importance in Gilmer County as she noted that each school presents its own calendar that is put together by teachers and administrators and then put out for citizen input. Noting the influence of educators of the process, Downs said she was against the thought of a committee placing importance of economy over education.
While both these counties gain a lot from the tourism industry, they annually balance their own festivals, events, and economies against the education calendar. Local people provide local input from local expertise as they continually deal with this problem.
Though the recommendation is non-binding, it leaves citizens asking the question of how much control the state should have and exert over local governments. Though not directly related, they still recall the Governors “Opportunity School Districts” campaign in recent years. A campaign shot down at the polls. If moved forward and put in place, regulations on the school year may shift discussions from the economic benefit to the state as a whole and focus solely on the overreach of State Government into local communities.
According to the AJC, the committee includes chair and state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the Department of Economic Development Kevin Langston, Georgia Chamber of Commerce designee Michael Owens, Director of the Georgia Travel Association Kelsey Moore, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus Jay Markwalter, former state Director of Community Affairs Camila Knowles, State Board of Education member Scott Johnson and Grier Todd, chief operating officer at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A single letter. One person’s thoughts is what ultimately led to a recent ceremony by the Board of Education to dedicate the auditorium at Ellijay Elementary School.
With the idea brought up in the Board’s meetings in recent months, Hefner’s family and the community of Gilmer County joined together to celebrate Hefner’s life and service in education.
Speaking at the event, Retired Superintendent Ben Arp said, “As I came to know Homer Hefner, I found him to have the traits of a good father.” He shared about Hefner’s lover for Esther, his wife, and how much it meant that Hefner was such a good example in his life.
He went on to speak of Hefner’s intensity and dedication through his life and how he took that through Gilmer High School, North Georgia College, and service in the United States Army. Returning to Ellijay after the Army, he came home to Ellijay to serve more through a 38-year career in education.
Hefner stretched through many facets of education as he served as a teacher, counselor, administrator, and, eventually, Superintendent.
Arp said it was Hefner’s leadership that was an integral part of Gilmer’s success during a changing and challenging time in education. Setting Gilmer as a beacon that many systems looked at and visited to learn from.
Also, Hefner received the Citizen of the Year Award in 1999. He was more than an educator as he volunteered in the community and organizations to grow Gilmer as a county alongside the education system.
The dedication ceremony also offered remembrance of Hefner with songs from the Ellijay Elementary School Choral students, led by Katie Mayfield, and a special plaque unveiled after the ceremony.