EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Starting today, Gilmer County Schools has shut down the 6th Grade of Clear Creek Middle School to attempt to stem a rise in numbers of positive cases within the grade level.
Those numbers are coming from both students and staff according to a letter from Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs stating that they would be closing due to the increase.
Effective until November 4, 2020, students will be at home with learning devices as a part of the distance learning platform that the school has had in use since the early spring outbreak of the virus. However, it is not exactly the same program as the school system has since improved and evolved their distance learning programs with added software and procedures.
Since August, some students have already been a part of the virtual classrooms and students in school have received instructions on using Google Classroom as well.
At this time, Downs states that all of the system’s other schools and grade levels will keep operating as they have been, remaining open for students.
In a letter to parents, Downs said, “Recognizing the challenges closures pose for many families in our community, we are making this decision with a heavy heart but for the greater good. Our priority is always the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”
As of last Friday, October 16, 2020, the school system had 7 students absent with positive tests for COVID-19 and 133 students quarantined for possible exposure.
According to the school system’s website;
4125 – Students enrolled in GCSS
7 – GCSS Students Absent with a Current Positive COVID-19 Status
133- GCSS Students Quarantined for Possible Exposure
526 – Total Number of GCSS Employees
7- GCSS Employees Absent with a Current Positive COVID-19 Status
32 – GCSS Employee Who Has Been Exposed and is Quarantined or Reporting to Work as an Essential Employee*
The Board of Education is holding meetings this week as their regularly scheduled monthly meetings. FYN will update new stories if new information becomes available.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Last week’s news of a teacher’s arrest on charges of allegedly carrying out an inappropriate relationship with a student resulted in the following day a letter of resignation submitted to the Gilmer County Board of Education.
This culminated at the Board’s meeting when voting on personnel. Nathan Sutton’s, the teacher in question, resignation was a part of the agenda item.
Board member Ronald Watkins asked to vote on Sutton’s resignation separate from the other personnel changes. While the general personnel passed without issue, Sutton’s resignation was questioned.
Watkins said he wanted the Board to not accept his resignation as it allows him to part from the school board with a letter of resignation rather than being fired for the incident. Watkins referenced another recent resignation, saying it was similarly a situation of allowing a resignation before an investigation could prove any improper behavior.
While the Board was originally split with Board member Tom Ocobock saying he agreed that he wanted it to say on record that he was fired. Ocobock also indicated that he didn’t want Sutton “let off” with a resignation after the alleged incident. This was stressed even further as they both noted Sutton’s alleged confession.
However, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs suggested to the board that the school system would proceed with whatever they voted, she counseled them to accept the resignation on the grounds that the if the Board wished to proceed with firing him instead, they would reject the resignation and continue paying Sutton as a teacher and keeping him as an employee, at least on paper, until the proceeding could go forward with the schools firing policy. With the investigation and the school board’s process to fire him. It could take up to a couple months or even 90 days was suggested as an extreme possibility.
Some of the complicating factors revolved around the victim not being a student anymore, new policy updates for Title 9 with the schools, and proceeding with the termination in face of a resignation letter.
Downs said that she has already filed paperwork with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) for an ethics complaint on record regarding the incident, and that the police would be moving forward with their investigation. The complaint with the GaPSC also requested to pull Sutton’s certificate for education.
According to the GaPSC website:
Title 20, Education, of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.), outlines the legal guidelines, which govern the state education program.
Title 20 creates the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) and assigns it responsibility for providing a regulatory system for “certifying and classifying” professional employees in public schools. Title 20 also requires the professional employees of all Georgia public schools to hold state certification.
Downs added that the resignation allows the board to separate from Sutton immediately without the full process of investigating themselves and firing Sutton on those grounds. She said that as far as him going to another school or getting another job, there was little difference in firing Sutton or accepting the resignation. The difference was in paying him until they could fire him or terminating the contract now.
Ocobock said that he still wanted him fired, but with Downs saying she had filed the complaint and as long as he could not go to another school for a job, he was okay with the resignation path of separation.
However, Watkins still pushed for the official process saying that he was really discouraged that he has had two people know that will be allowed to resign instead of being fired. He stated, “I want to know how bad something has got to be to where I can fire someone.”
Indeed, with a motion on the floor to accept the resignation, Watkins made his official motion to proceed with the firing process. The motion did not receive a second and died. However, the Board then proceeded with approving the motion to accept Sutton’s resignation 4-0 with Watkins abstaining.
Watkins did make one comment saying he felt he was appearing like “the bad guy” because he abstained from the resignation, but was reassured by other Board members. Ocobock told him he wasn’t the bad guy saying, “You’ve got to think about what it’s going to cost the school and the disruption in the high school where now we’ve got to find another teacher to replace him.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – In speaking with Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, FYN has confirmed that a teacher at Gilmer High School has been arrested after allegations came in regards to an “inappropriate relationship.”
A former student of Gilmer High School came forward to speak with Principal Carla Foley about the situation and to voice concerns about the possibility of it continuing with others now.
This female student, that will not be named, spoke with both Foley and the Sheriff’s Office about her time in the school and her relationship with the teacher. Downs confirmed the teacher to be Nathan Sutton, a Technology Teacher focused in audio/visual and the Film Program Instructor.
According to Downs, the student originally offered to come and speak with Principal Foley and share her story. However, upon arrival, she was asked if she would be willing to speak to officers as well. Downs said that the former student was willing to speak with officers at the same time as Foley.
Downs stated that, normally, the school system would investigate itself and share their information with the Sheriff’s Office, they asked deputies to be present from the start this time because the female is not currently a student in Gilmer. The school also declined to say when the student graduated.
According to Downs, the school system was informed of the situation yesterday and spoke with the student. After this, she immediately placed Sutton on administrative leave.
She said that deputies went to speak with Sutton last night, at which point he allegedly confessed to the relationship. Downs said that she went immediately to speak with Sutton today, at which point he resigned from teaching at Gilmer High School. Sutton’s resignation will be brought before the Board of Education tomorrow night at their regular meeting as is procedure with all resignations.
Dr. Downs said that she will be filing further with the Georgia Profession Standards Commission. While the Sheriff’s Office is taking the investigation, Downs said the school system will be filing an ethics complaint against Sutton.
According to the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office website, Sutton is currently being held at the Gilmer County Detention Center having been arrested in less than twelve hours after allegations were brought against him. He is being held on a Felony Charge of “Sexual Assault by Persons with Supervisory or Disciplinary Authority.”
FYN has requested details about his arrest and the ongoing investigation.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – On a tour through several schools in North Georgia, the State Superintendent Richard Woods visited Ellijay Elementary School last week to tour the school and speak with administrators on the beginning of the new school term considering much of the changes and challenges this year.
Woods arrived at Ellijay Elementary late in the day to see how the school handles transportation, social distancing, and cleanliness and prevention practices during that process.
Met by school administrators and Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Woods toured part of the school and spoke about the challenges that schools are seeing as they return to class. Through the line-up, car window tags, and computer system for parents picking up students, Woods saw the stream-lined system the Ellijay Elementary uses to identify parents, call for the student, and allow students into cars one at a time with space between.
In addition to this, Woods viewed several classes lining up for buses. Through the redistricting that Gilmer did last year, less buses come through the elementary school and reach homes far faster. This means less time on the bus, and less time spent with students from other schools.
As a part of the loading process, school personnel and the bus drivers spray sanitizer on students hands before the enter the buses and use assigned seating for students on the bus. Administrators also told Woods that, when possible, family members are kept together on the bus as well.
Woods also asked about the sports program at stadiums with schools returning to football. Dr. Downs replied saying they would be requesting those displaying symptoms stay home, and would be encouraging social distancing with fans. Yet, they did not want to distribute limited tickets to families as they had dealt with similar issues in previous years at graduation.
Continuing along, Woods has been asking the schools he visits how he and the state could help.
Dr. Downs noted that teachers in the state are not considered essential employees by the governor. That moniker means something as teachers who may have a possible exposure through detailed contact tracing or similar means are being sent home to quarantine for 14 days. Gilmer has had issue here as people who aren’t sick are being forced to go home. Some flexibility in the area could mean a world of difference.
Dr. Downs said that someone who may have had a possible contact could come to work with an N95 mask and fall under daily monitoring and observation. This way, at the first sign of any issue, they could be sent home then, but many teachers have been identified as a possible contact and gone through quarantine without ever getting sick or showing any signs. Downs added that those who feel the need to quarantine could still follow that procedure.
Downs clarified that they don’t want to put sick people in school, but rather avoid stigma and over-reactions to extended contact tracing that is sending a large number of people home and putting a strain on the school system which is struggling to provide substitute teachers. This comes from a dwindling pool of substitutes as those “at-risk” have decided not to substitute for the schools this year.
As the visit neared its end, Woods said he understands that every county is adjusting to their own needs and a “one-size-fits-all approach” would never have worked. But he made the visits to see the schools and hear their needs.
Woods is set to return to the state department and share all that he saw and learned from his tour. He has said that he wants the state to continue supporting the counties in their individual responses.
Woods said, “Please let us know how we can help and things that we can do to support what you all are doing… Success happens her.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Charter Schools has stated today that they will begin offering free meals of both lunches and breakfasts to all students attending classes in person on Gilmer campuses.
According to their statement, “Effective Tuesday, September 8,2020 all Gilmer County Schools will begin serving free breakfast and lunch meals to all students attending in person classes.” This does not rely on applications or normal free and reduced lunches with the school’s normal program.
System administration said today that the USDA is the source of funding for lunches for the remainder of this semester only. Gilmer Schools has already moved to free breakfasts in the past in efforts to increase participation. They also provided lunches through bus routes in March, earlier this year, for students as a part of a “Seamless Lunches” program feeding kids during the school year. The school year was cut off due to COVID-19 outbreak. That program fed students as they adapted to classes at home and “distance learning” under quarantines as the outbreak first spread.
Today, the new program is set to continue free meals until December 31, 2020. The school system said, “This will allow the school nutrition program to serve nutritious meals to all students who attend in person classes, at no cost to families. Students who purchased a school lunch September 1-4, 2020 will be issued a credit on their meal accounts.”
The program ends over the break between semesters and usual meal prices will resume in January, 2021.
Administration said they “strongly encourage families to complete an application for free and reduced meals” before then.
Lunch price for elementary and middle school students is $2.15 and $2.30 for high school students. Reduced price lunches are $.40 for all grade levels.
Along with the information they gave, GCCS said, “We understand that these are trying times for everyone and are hoping this will relieve some of the financial hardship that is being felt by many in our community. If you have any questions, please contact the School Nutrition Office at (706) 276-5000.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote on Monday, August 24, 2020, saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners follow up on statements from last year where they discussed lowering the Bond Millage Rate in the county.
While they did not approve lowering the rate in 2019, many citizens have continued discussing and pushing for the reduction this year. A few have very vocally called for the reduction of the “extra half mill” that was put on the Bond Millage rate raising it from 1 to 1.5 mills. Additionally, the viral outbreak and subsequent shutdowns of counties and states cast a dark shadow on local economies and doubt for the financial future of Gilmer.
The Commissioners halted capital spending and major projects as they watched and waited to see just what kind of impact it would have, even delaying their pool project that has been underway for over a year now. The pool was closed at the beginning of May in 2019.
However, the last two months have shown quite the difference. Despite the cancellation of major events in the county and increasing numbers from the virus, recent reports show an increase in collections from tourism and SPLOST.
Whether this played a role in their decision, the commissioners did not say, but they did approve a drop in the bond millage rate by .25 mills, taking it from 1.5 to 1.25 mills.
The School-Board-approved millage rate of 13.963 was approved to be implemented by the Board of Commissioners. This is the Rollback Rate calculated for Gilmer County Schools as they have advertised over the past month since the July meeting. The Board of Education approved this rate last week during their regular August meeting.
They also moved forward with approval of the county’s M&O (Maintenance and Operations) Millage Rate of 6.783 mills. This is also a Rollback Rate calculated for the Board of Commissioners and advertised for the past month since their July Meeting.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The second month of posting and readings for the Millage Rate from Gilmer’s Board of Education saw no public comments before Thursday night’s meeting.
With no comment, the board continued forward with a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs to adopt the Rollback Rate dropping the Millage Rate from 14.248 to 13.963. Advertised since last month’s meeting, the board spoke on finances with the Millage Rate, this month, alongside the budget meetings after delays from the state due to COVID-19.
This week also saw the board‘s last public comments meeting for the 2020-2021 budget, also with no comments from the public. No longer needing monthly spending resolutions, the board will finally be moving forward with the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year with an established budget as the item received unanimous approval during Thursday’s meeting.
Discussions have gone on over the last few months over this budget and Millage Rate, the board has discussed needs and funding in the budget with cuts, changes, and shortfalls coming from the state funding. Some in the public expected increases in the Millage Rate to make up for the difference in the state funding.
This week saw the rollback rate agenda item return with very little discussion from the board and short review of the tax history. The board moved to adopt the rollback to keep in line with collections.
The budget also slightly decreased through its estimate compared to June’s Financial Summary that saw the final month of the FY 2019-2020 budget with expenditures at $44,732,231. The tentative budget that has now been approved as the 2021 Budget indicates and estimation of $41,575,332 total expenditures.
The budget is set for the school system, but the Millage Rate will now move on to a special called meeting of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners who are currently expected to approve the Millage Rate as approved by the school along with their own Rollback Rate Monday, August 24, 2020. Being held at 10:00 a.m., the Board of Commissioners are also considering a rollback to their Debt-Service-paying “Bond Millage Rate” by 0.25 mills.
While the Bond Millage is expected to provide a reduction in many citizens property taxes, Tax Assessments are individual to the property. Rollback Rates also look to collect the same taxes as the entity, be it the county or the school system, did last year despite increases in property values.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – A special called meeting tonight saw a split decision from the board to accept the resignation of Stuart Sheriff.
The Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, Sheriff was a key part in many day-to-day operations.
The vote to accept the resignation of Sheriff came 4-1 with Ronald Watkins being the dissenting vote in the group. Watkins made comments to his dissent saying he wanted to dismiss him instead.
Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said the process to replace Sheriff will likely take place internally as she said they would be shifting positions around to cover the gap and fill the position.
She declined to comment further on the situation instead saying that the resignation would take effect November 30, 2020.
The resignation comes at a surprising time with school just returning to session for the 2020-2021 school year. FYN is submitting request for more information. Stay with us as we update new articles as information becomes available.
FYN submitted a request for the resignation letter of Sheriff. In it, he notes personal reasons for resignation and his separation from the school system.
He said, “I appreciate the opportunities afforded me and the professional growth I attained during my tenure and wish you and the Gilmer County School System the best moving forward.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – As they have continued awaiting budget information from the state who is still recovering from delays due to he Coronavirus spread, the Gilmer Board of Education is moving forward with their tentative budget now as they are receiving those numbers.
According to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, state decreases are further hindering the budget with shortfalls on support funds. However, utilizing the CARES Act grant, the school is looking to fill in some of the gaps in technology, supplies, and other needs that are still seeing gaps. The school system reduced all of its budgets by 10% and then looked for staff positions that saw people leaving and decided not to refill those positions.
Despite the cuts, the board is still looking at a budget with expenditures over revenues, a not uncommon sight in the school system’s planning in recent years. According to the advertised budget, that gap will reach an estimated $2,573, 032 between the revenues under the expenditures. Covered by the boards fund balance, the issue has seen progress between the beginning of the year “budgets” vs end of year “actuals” previously. The board just approved their financial summary for July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. In that fiscal year, the board budgeted a $3 million gap, but the end of year “actuals” presented said the board actually met their expenditures which were held far lower than budgeted. They ended with a revenue over expenditures of $207,873.
However, looking at last year, the school saw $26,339,574 funded from state sources, which fell short of the expected, budgeted, $28,566,082 funding. This year’s tentative budget is already seeing a decrease to $25,784,011 expected.
The schools total expenditures for FY 2021 is $41,575,332. The total revenue for FY 2021 is $39,002,300.
If nothing changes except costs continuing to increase, Finance Director Trina Penland noted in a 5 year forecast for the board that the school’s fund balance could dip down to $2.3 million. However, Penland pointed out that the notation is a rough estimate assuming nothing changes and the school system does not make attempts to mitigate this like they did in last year’s budget.
Instead, she urged the board that these forecasts are meant to give an idea of the future so that the board does not only focus on the current year at the expense of the future.
The board is expecting to meet in a special called meeting to hear public input on the budget in August before they meet on August 20 to discuss final adoption of the budget.
Alongside the budget, this day will also see final approval of the Board of Education’s Millage Rate.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education presented advertising for their 5 year Tax history and a Tentative Millage Rate to seek final approval in August.
Looking back over recent years and comparing to 2020, the digest saw an overall 4.6 percent increase countywide. According to Director of Finance Trina Penland, the county’s exemptions increase by 3 percent as well. Part of the increase came from a senior’s exemption increase of roughly 10 percent.
According to Penland, Gilmer is the only county that has unlimited senior exemptions in the tax digest. But because that exemption is a local exemption, the school still pays taxes to the state on the funds not collected due to the exemption.
The current millage rate sits at 14.248 mills for the Board of Education. As they look at the calculated rollback rate to prevent them from collecting any more that last year, Penland presented the Rollback Rate to the board at 13.963 mills.
If the board does not accept the Rollback Rate, Penland stated they would be collecting an additional $351,000.
Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs presented her recommendation that the board accept the Rollback Rate, and with a motion and second, the board unanimously approved the rate.
Additionally, Board Member Jim Parmer, stated that he appreciated the work that the finance staff and Dr. Downs put in. He went on to say, “Honestly, If we were going to do furlough days, I would say let’s keep our rate. But ya’ll have said you’re not doing that…”
Through additional discussions, Penland stated that the Rollback should collect just over $17 million. But adding in a look at the history, Penland stated, “If you look back at the history. When you look back in 2009, that was before the first recession, the school collected $24.7 million in property tax revenue. We have cut back. We have cut programs, benefits. We have cut everything to be as close as we can on the budget.”
She also noted several rollbacks including one that rolled back more than the recommended rate.
The Rollback Rate will go through the advertisement process and see final approval in August before sending the rate to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners for their approval alongside their millage rate and implementation into the new tax year.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer has begun discussions of its return to school in August with details available to push back the starting date for students as well as offering an option for their return and will be making final decisions on details tonight.
Debates have arisen among board members for restrictions and requirements for the return. The school system is set to have part of its students attending a “virtual academy” while others will be attending class in person. Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs spoke this week saying that families could choose how to attend.
Committing to one or the other means dedicating to that form for a semester for high school or 9-week period for Grades K-8, according to Chief Academic Officer Lottie Mitchell.
Another major change coming at the beginning of the year will be moving back classes by four days. This push back, said Downs, is focused on allowing extra time to train and prepare staff for their changes in the coming school year through cleanings, classes, and training for lessons whether face-to-face or through the virtual academy. This will also push the first day of school to a Friday as Dr. Downs said in their July Work-session, “Our staff just seems to prefer to start on Friday so that we learn from Friday, especially when changes are being made.”
She went on to explain that the Friday start also allows teachers to meet students and go through classes and then have two days to make any last minute changes they feel are necessary. Taking the weekend to regroup allows teachers to work in classrooms or perform alterations to plans after that day without having to try and push through a week before they have any large portion of time to achieve this.
Although the board gave approval for this change through board polling, this change of days must be ratified as other decisions are approved tonight, Thursday, June 23, 2020. Yet, Dr. Downs cautioned the board and citizens saying that even this close to class, new information is still coming in requiring new changes from the state. A new state order could completely change the plans that the school system has made.
Returning to class in-person will see changes for students as they see separations by glass or Plexiglas in certain areas supporting social distancing, some hallways in schools will be one way traffic and some will only walk on one side of the hallway in a direction, increasing use of hand sanitizer and hand washing, and reducing numbers of students in a room among others.
The school system, currently, will make decisions on closing schools and when that is needed.
As for usage of masks, situations like school buses will not allow for social distancing needs. As such, the current plans are to require masks for students on buses along with assigned seats. They will also strongly recommend mask usage in classes. To that end, the school system will be giving masks to students and they are also planning on obtaining disposal masks for bus drivers to hand out if a student forgets or loses his or her mask.
The board is also installing water bottle fillers in some schools to combat water fountain usage.
To support the health of staff and students as they return, the board has purchased 5,000 masks, ten additional no-touch thermometers in addition to the ones that nurses already have, 250 gallons of hand sanitizer, and other items like bottles, spray bottles, towels, cleaning equipment, disposal gowns, and face shields.
The board also confirmed updates with their janitorial service, ABM, as for cleaning and requirements for the new needs for cleaning.
Board Member Tom Ocobock questioned the school systems response for students in class who may test positive for COVID-19.
Dr. Downs responded saying that they would not be put into the same virtual academy style as those who opt into it. Instead it will be more similar to distance learning they did in the Spring or make-up studies as with normal years dealing with sickness. Additionally, the school will be utilizing online plannings used in Google Classroom allowing a seamless transition to distance learning and then back into class when they are cleared.
In such a case, Dr. Downs assured the board that the systems had methods in place for contact tracing as well should the need arise.
The board also touched on some other ideas that may or may not be utilized such as rotating using the lunchroom for some while others might eat in classrooms.
Virtual Academy will be an all new program different from the springs distance learning for students. The new program works through Edgenuity (Grades 6-12) and Odysseyware (Grades K-5). The school system has already began pilots with the program in recent years.
While the program has options for Edgenuity teachers to be used, Mitchell said the Gilmer would use their own Gilmer County Teachers as facilitators for the program and to follow up with students as they guide them along.
These facilitators will be able to track student progress and log-ins during the return to class for attendance recording through their Chromebooks as well as viewing students’ notes taken. Additionally, teachers can add, remove, or reorder lessons and features for students as needed.
With Odysseyware, a Teacher Authoring Tool creates lessons, projects, or assessments from scratch and embed media and links within assignments personalizing the lessons as they need.
For those with special needs who return virtually, teachers can adjust grade weights & passing thresholds, read text aloud at different speeds, allow additional attempts on assignments and assessments, adjust the time for assessments, customize course content for remediation, acceleration, and support, and allow students to test out of mastered content.
These options for Virtual Academies are also time flexible as Mitchell said students who may decide or need to get a job can work around the hours and log on at anytime during the day. Dr. Downs said at this time they are considering implementation plans as they might have a teacher teach several lessons in person and then one period of virtual. Additionally, students who fall behind in the Virtual Academy may be asked to return to school in person to recover their grades. Students attending virtual academy will sign contracts to be fully aware of the expectations and responsibilities of the program.
Yet, these plans are still being discussed and should see updates tonight as the board continues weighing options and citizen response. One detail yet unsettled among the board is how to handle students in virtual academy wishing to participate in extracurricular activities. Board Member Ronald Watkins noted his displeasure with everything coming down to last minute decisions, but Dr. Downs explained that they are still getting changes from the Department of Education and are trying to add in final alterations as needed.
Continuing the separation between those attending in-person and those attending online, Dr. Downs said that those opting to go online are not going to get the same experiences as those in class, but the board is attempting to feel its way through the new program accommodating those students whenever and however possible.
For citizens wishing to know more or asking questions, Dr. Downs published a video covering parent concerns as well as the board is now keeping a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) sheet upon their website.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer Schools is reaching out to parents, students, educators, and citizens to offer their opinions on Milestones testing and the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) through a survey.
Although linked on Gilmer Schools’ social media, the Georgia Department of Education is marked atop the survey as they seek a response about their request for waivers of these annual tests and reports
According to a joint statement from Governor Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods of the Georgia Department of Education:
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, we have urged common sense regarding compliance in Georgia’s public schools, and a focus before anything else on the health, safety, and well-being of students, families, and school staff.
“On March 16, Georgia became one of the first states in the nation to suspend standardized testing requirements in the wake of the COVID-19 school closures, and later received approval from the U.S. Department of Education for the cancelation of all remaining standardized tests in the 2019-2020 school year.
“Given the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic and the resulting state budget reductions, it would be counterproductive to continue with high-stakes testing for the 2020-2021 school year. In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth, and the safety of students. Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.
“Georgia will submit a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education for the suspension of the 2020-21 Georgia Milestones assessment and CCRPI school and district rating. To our knowledge, Georgia is the first state in the nation to make this announcement for the upcoming school year. Additionally, effective immediately, the Georgia Department of Education is suspending the teacher evaluation (TKES) summative rating for 2020-21.
“These efforts are in line with our longstanding shared belief that assessment has a place and a purpose in education, but the current high-stakes testing regime is excessive. Though the legislative session was shortened due to COVID-19, we are continuing to pursue Senate Bill 367, which aims to get Georgia’s state testing requirements in line with the federal minimum and maximize time for instruction.
“We are hopeful the federal government will recognize that the upcoming school year will not be ‘business as usual’ and will accept our request for a standardized testing waiver.”
The posted survey asks which county you live in and if you agree or disagree with this request, but also leaves ares for comments and written opinions on the topics as well.
FYN reached out today to Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs for comment on the waiver and the survey and is currently awaiting response.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Despite a back and forth with state and Georgia Board of Education officials, Gilmer is still awaiting details to approve its budget for 2020-2021 school year. A now officially-approved spending resolution is allowing them to move forward despite that obstacle alongside other financial approvals for past budget and purchases.
The resolution came with itemized reports for extra expenses for academic supplies and subscriptions as reported in BOE to seek spending resolution tomorrow. utilizing one-twelfth, equivalent to one month, of the final amended budget from the previous year.
In their monthly purchasing policy report, the schools are continuing to expand the chromebook ratio to students as previous discussions show that the board is preparing for possibilities to return or not return to school in the fall. These discussions could see a final decision in July. The purchasing policy showed $49,140 for Chromebooks across Clear Creek Elementary School, Ellijay Elementary School, and Mountainview Elementary this month.
The board also approved their academic supplements for FY 21 including instructors and coaches for several extracurricular “academic” teams. Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs explained that some changes from last year and inclusion of Winterguard and Band in the Academic Teams as it is not recognized as a sport yet by GHSA.
A GHS Furniture purchase also saw approval as Downs explained that the “not to exceed $125,000” recommendation was to ensure any surprises as outfitting a number of rooms and spaces including mostly science classrooms.
Moving forward with their meetings into the year, the board is changing on date in September now that they have found the approved school calendar will coincide their September meetings with Fall break. Therefore, they approved a change moving the meeting dates from September 21 and 24 to its new date of September 14 and 17.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Because the State has not yet passed a budget for FY 21 it has been recommended across the state that districts pass a spending resolution for July until we receive final numbers,” said Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs at this week’s work session of the Board of Education.
A Spending Resolution, Downs explained, will allow use of one-twelfth, equivalent to one month, of the final amended budget from the previous year. Allowing for debt service and capital expenditures, Downs said that Gilmer has a number of items that are mostly curriculum related subscriptions. The entire Itemized List is included in the Spending Resolution posted by the BOE on their website. This list is set to be voted on tomorrow. These items must be approved above the one-twelfth allowed spending resolution.
The resolution will move the board into its new fiscal year without a fully approved budget as they await those numbers of the state budget and what that will allow for the county in state money.
Additionally, the board will be voting to approve their Financial Summary. Comparing with April of last year as the board begins looking at what financial impact the outbreak of COVID-19 has had, Board Member Tom Ocobock made note that, financially, it wasn’t as bad as some expected. According to the summary, April of 2019 saw revenues at $35,804,009, and April of 2020 saw revenues at $37,638,750. The difference totals a $1,834,741 increase.
Another financial vote to be held will be for Budget amendments. Downs noted that this could include shortfalls, carry over, and even additions from state funding. This budget amendment for approval is the “Budget Amendment for Grants” and will also be up for vote at tomorrow’s 5:30 p.m. Regular Meeting for the Gilmer Board of Education alongside the Spending Resolution and Financial Summary.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Though no exact details are available yet, the Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs is meeting with the board, with faculty administrators, and with citizens and parents about details and options of the school to return along with its calendar schedule at the end of July.
Dr. Downs said, “Our district, along with the world, is grappling with an issue of enormous scale and human impact, and our hearts go out to all of those that have been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. We believe it is our role and responsibility during this time to prioritize two things: the health and well-being of our students and staff while continuing to provide a quality education for our students.”
Downs added that the school is continuing to make its plans according to these priorities and according to the information given by both the state and our local community. The board is looking at survey results from questions about the school’s return sent only to parents of students along with meetings with security, Health Professionals, and others as they consider the details on the possible return. However, Dr. Downs said that the information coming in for them is still changing almost daily.
The process will continue, however, and plans are expected to reach a final decision by July’s meeting of the BOE in preparation of the calendar’s start date. If the calendar is followed, teachers will return for pre-planning and professional learning the last week of July, July 27 – July 31, and students will see their first day of school on August 3.
During this month, Downs said they will be reviewing all of their options and guidance from authorities like the Department of Public Health and state officials. She said they will make the decision “that makes the most sense for the students and families of Gilmer County. What works in California or what works in Fulton County doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of Gilmer County Students, so we will be looking at that through that lens.”
Downs did say they have a foundation of plans in place to keep both the children and staff safe when they return. She also noted plans in progress to expand digital learning through virtual school with the curriculum team. A relatively new program only rolled out in January, this could be expanded to a full K-12 program as an option for families in any grade that may not be comfortable to returning to face-to-face instruction in the near future.
With options available and plans set to explore several paths, Downs said exact details will be made available later so that nothing is said that might be different or changed soon.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – New bids for fuel and disposal were approved this month by the Gilmer Board of Education in preparation of the coming school year.
Presented during the work-session, the bids sheet shown each bid with the low bids highlighted, which were later approved as the awarded bids for the year. This saw Cherry Log Petroleum awarded with the bid of $9.95/gallon on Motor Oil and $9.96 for antifreeze. Petroleum Traders Corp won the bid for fuel at 0.0174 for Diesel and 0.0314 for ethanol free gasoline. Appalachian Propane won the propane bid at 0.774 per gallon. Scanna Energy won the Natural Gas bid for 12 months at 0.291 per therm. Advanced Disposal won dumpster service at $4,520.56 per month.
The Personnel approvals saw a minor dissent with Board Member Ronald Watkins abstaining from a couple of votes, he said he he didn’t want to vote against these people, but he wanted to see more priority and preference to local people over searching outside the county. He said, “I feel like we have got to take care of our own.” Watkins made special note on the current economy and the difficulty some may find in getting a job. Watkins said that while some may not interview as well, but if they have worked for us, and people vouch for them, then we know what we’re getting.
Pushing for more local preference, Watkins did vote yes on most of the personnel, it was only 2 people that he abstained from. He made sure to say that he wanted it known that he wasn’t against them and, therefore, would not vote no.
A final note, Gilmer may be looking for a spending resolution next month. Though progressing on schedule with the budgeting process during the last few months, the change comes from certain uncertainties in the county and warnings from the state about funding shortages. A comment was made during the meeting that the board may not get full details until July along with the funding. Because of these issues, the budgeting is taking a hit and the board could see major differences in the available funds. It was suggested outside of the meeting that the board may supplement some needs with fund balance, but the school system’s actual response will have to wait for final say from the state before they can make any real plans to cover or cut things.