Ethics and Security questioned in Gilmer Administration

News

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.

Jeff Downs

Jeff Downs,  Senior Vice President of Sales

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.”

Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

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.”

The RFP continued under Call and received two proposals, one from Centegix and one from ETC in Ellijay. When questioned as to why only two proposals were received, Call noted that other companies did inquire about the RFP, but never submitted a proposal. Without an official submittal, there is no record of these inquiries and their company’s interests in the request.
The RFP advertisement did reach statewide as Call publicized the request in not only the school’s website, but on the state procurement website as well. According to the Georgia Procurement Registry, they directly emailed 231 contacts over 122 companies about the RFP while also being searchable to any vendors accessing the website.
Call further stated that the full product and network that Centegix offered isn’t easily found in other places. He indicated that Centegix, LLC, together with its parent, 34ED, LLC, and affiliates Kloud-12 and Dooley Education Solutions, has done something that many companies are just beginning to get into.
It isn’t so much any individual technology they have that others don’t, according to Call, but rather the way they “marry the technology together.”
Centegix’s proposal offered an alert button system alongside classroom camera systems that operates on a singular network incorporating a campus-wide CrisisAlert System, classroom cameras, and classroom educational video capabilities. It also provides exact location information through ID Badges that hold the alert button system with configurable presses to notify emergencies on two levels, campus-wide emergencies and local individualized incidents.
ETC’s proposal offered Camera system integration and wearable IneractWear control buttons to initiate camera recording and notifications to administrators for incidents or sever emergencies requiring 911 intervention.
According to Call’s recorded scoresheets filed with Gilmer Schools, the difference between the two proposals came down to only $10,698. However, with a full 1.742 points difference, the scoring was based on the six criteria of the RFP noted earlier.
FYN has also received the individual scorecards of each of the six people on the committee to judge the RFP responses, including Ashley CoatesTiffany Boyette,  Stephanie BurnetteNicole Pike John Call, and  James Jones.
With the final vote having been taken for the security proposals in December, Call presented these results to the Board who accepted Centegix’s proposal and are already well into the installation process in every school except Gilmer Middle School and a partial install in Ellijay Primary.
The school system has decided to move forward with installing the CrisisAlert system buttons as they attach easliy to the drop ceilings and operate on battery. With the ease of removal and moving the system, they intend to transfer this system to the Clear Creek Elementary School when constructed.

Centegix Proposal:

ETC Proposal:

ETC – Alert System – RFP – Additional InformationETC – Alert System – RFP – Additional Information

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BOE asks for citizens to vote on 2019-20 Calendars

Bobcat's Corner, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With a few changes in details sparked from a recent state committee wanting state control over calendars, the Gilmer BOE is moving forward with its annual community vote.

Citizens are encouraged to visit the Gilmer County Charter School System website in order to participate in a vote over six possible calendars created by the schools in our county.

As educators and administrators have spent the last few months considering and creating the calendars up for the vote, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said they have actually identified which school created the calendar this year.

She said in February’s work session that she hopes this furthers peoples’ understanding that these options are not just thrown together, but planned and meticulously built by the schools for the school’s and student’s needs.

Downs is asking citizens to “Please review each of the calendars carefully, vote for the calendar of your choice, and remind others to vote as well.” The survey will be posted until March 8. After that, the results will be presented at the March 18 work session.

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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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Brian Kemp visits Ellijay Tea Party

Election, Politics

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Georgia Secretary of State, and now candidate for governor, Brian Kemp visited Gilmer County today, Feb. 20, to speak with the Ellijay Tea Party about his campaign.

Coming from Athens-Clarke County, Kemp says he got frustrated with the local government’s regulations and taxes. He went on to say, “I wanted to make government smaller. I wanted to make it more efficient. I wanted to streamline it. I was tired of liberal, big Democratic policies going on in state government.”

Moving ahead to his current campaign, Kemp told those present to look at the candidates and ask, “Who do you actually trust to do what they say?”

Kemp noted his use of technology to advance Georgia saying, “I do have that record of using technology to change our corporate filing system where now, the last two years in a row, we have literally set records for the number of annual registrations we’re doing in the first quarter … We also implemented a state-wide voter registration system, a new system because our old one was failing and it was on the state’s old mainframe computer. This is literally a state-wide IT project where we had to go through year-long procurement and then implement this new system in all 159 counties, retraining all the county registrars and election workers on how to use it. But we did that because we now have a better system that does more for the local election folks.”

Elections became a closer focus in Kemp’s meeting as he spoke about supporting the photo ID law for securing elections. Kemp stated he has been attacked by several politicians calling him a voter suppressor. Adamantly denying the claim, he noted 800,000 more people on voter rolls now than when he took office. Though accused of suppressing voting, Kemp noted record turnouts for voting in Georgia for the last elections we have had including the 2016 Presidential Election, the SEC Regional Primary, and even the Karen Handel versus Jon Ossoff special election.

Focusing on his four-point-plan, Kemp took his time to explain his ideas for the governor’s office and his next steps if he gets elected. Noting his first point of making Georgia the number one state in the country for small business, Kemp said that he is a small business guy who spent and still spends time with his construction company. Saying 95 percent of corporations in Georgia’s 700,000 companies employ less than 50 people, he added that Ellijay itself is built on the backs of small businesses.

As his second point, Kemp claimed he wants to fundamentally reform state government through its budget, operations, and taxes. This brought up points of the spending cap and tax reform. Kemp said the only tax breaks he has seen is for those who have lobbyists before adding, “I’m wanting to be your lobbyist as governor, your lobbyist to give you tax breaks.”

Accomplishing this, according to Kemp, would require implementing the spending cap and budgeting conservatively in order to have money left over at the end of the year. Having money left over would lead to the real tax reform. Kemp added he did not care who it was, he would work with anyone on tax reform as long as it is broad based.

“The third point is making sure all of Georgia has the same opportunity; we’re moving all of Georgia forward. It’s not healthy for our state when we only have certain communities that are growing and thriving,” said Kemp, who added that he was the first candidate to make a plan to strengthen rural Georgia including protecting our military bases, taking the Georgia Grown program internationally, and creating economic strike teams to focus investments and job opportunities for projects of real regional significance.

Resting on his fourth point, Kemp said it was something that is easy to say, but not for politicians to follow through on. “Putting Georgians First” has become a campaign slogan for Kemp in addition to a trending hashtag #gafirst. Kemp delved deeper into the topic saying he wanted citizens ahead of special interest groups. He also wants to enforce the ban on sanctuary cities saying, “It’s ridiculous that we have states like California that are now wanting to become sanctuary states when we’re not even taking care of our people and our own veterans. Illegals can go into hospital rooms and get free healthcare and our own people are getting priced out of the market.”

Closing his speech, Kemp told those present that he could not do it alone saying, “I cannot win this race without your help.” Stating he was not a special interest candidate, Kemp claimed he has the resources to win and the “best ground game in the state” with locals and citizens who endorse his message and his campaign. He called it a grassroots army that he was raising through people who would support him.

After delivering his message, Kemp took a few moments to answer questions. Generally focusing on elections, voter IDs, and ballots, Kemp noted there is not a verifiable paper audit trail in current systems. With an aging system that has been near collapse, Kemp says they have been looking at options for the next system to use. Considering electronic systems versus paper ballots, the discussion of what system should be used has caused debate.

Kemp spoke about a test last November in Conyers as a pilot: “You vote on a marking device like we have now. Then, once you hit submit, it prints the ballot out. You can hold it in your hand. You can look at your selections … Let’s say it’s not like you want it, you take it to a poll worker, they spoil the ballot, and you go back. If it is like you want to vote, you go to a scanner. It scans that ballot, counts it electronically, so you have the electronic count. Then it drops it into a locked ballot box, so you have the paper receipt. So, you actually have two ways to audit after the election.”

FetchYourNews also got a chance to ask Kemp about his opinions on Senate Bill 375, “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act.” Though Kemp said he had not fully read 375, he said he signed the pledge to support religious liberty legislation that was vetoed in recent years. A topic that has divided lawmakers and legislators, the religious liberty pledge could set the future of reviving that legislation. While supporters point to the protection legislation like 375 could afford businesses and departments, opponents fire back with allegations of “legalized discrimination.”

Kemp said in today’s Tea Party meeting, “The sky is not falling if we protect religious freedom and religious liberty by signing a bill in Georgia that references what is in federal law.” Calling it a common sense thing, he says he is supportive of the issue. However, signing the religious freedom bill may make Bill 375 a “non-issue.”

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Senator David Perdue: President Trump Driving Consensus To Fix Our Legal Immigration System

State & National

Senator David Perdue: President Trump Driving Consensus To Fix Our Legal Immigration System

“My personal focus continues to be on how we eliminate chain migration, which is a fundamental flaw in our current immigration policy”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA) made the following comments after the White House meeting on immigration today:

“President Trump, being an outsider and business guy, is driving consensus between Republicans and Democrats to fix our legal immigration system. Today’s White House meeting was to define the scope of this negotiation to include four items: solving the DACA situation, addressing border security, ending chain migration, and eliminating the outdated visa lottery. President Trump is trying to instill a sense of urgency to get something done on immigration, but this topic should not be part of funding the federal government. My personal focus continues to be on how we eliminate chain migration, which is a fundamental flaw in our current immigration policy. If any conversation about DACA is being held without that consideration, it is not going to go anywhere in the United States Senate. The first thing a DACA recipient will do if given permanent status is use chain migration laws to sponsor those who violated the law originally. Ending chain migration and eliminating the outdated visa lottery program is in our national security and economic interest. President Trump has done a great job making sure this remains a top priority in any immigration discussion.”

Gilmer Receives CCRPI Scores

Bobcat's Corner, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Charter School System has received results for 2017’s CCRPI. Releasing the following information, the schools have shown marked improvement in testing since last year.

The schools utilize this information when creating plans for next year as they see what areas need help and what areas have succeeded with current teaching methods.

These scores also indicate an above average scoring for most of the county’s schools, as well as an above average score overall for the district, which is an obvious improvement over years passed.

The following is a release from Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes:

 

The Georgia Department of Education released the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) 2016-2017 school year data on November 2nd.

The CCRPI is Georgia’s statewide accountability system, implemented in 2012 to replace No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress measurement (AYP). It measures schools and districts on a 100-point scale based on multiple indicators of performance.

Five of Gilmer County Charter Schools six schools saw an increase in their CCRPI scores compared to their 2016 scores.

Ellijay Elementary School (EES) made an impressive gain of 13.6 points with a 2017 CCRPI score of 81.1, compared with a 2016 CCRPI score of 67.5. Lauree Pierce, principal at Ellijay Elementary School, stated, “The data indicates that EES is heading in the right direction. To add to the excitement, changes implemented in the 2017-18 school year are sure to have a positive effect on these numbers next year.”

On Nov. 3, Pierce and her administrative staff cooked a steak lunch with homemade desserts for all EES staff to show appreciation for all their hard work.

Gilmer Middle School is comprised of fifth and sixth grades and each grade receives a CCRPI score. The fifth grade receives an elementary CCRPI score and the sixth grade receives a middle school CCRPI score.

According to the scores released, the state’s 2017 CCRPI average was 72.9 for elementary schools, 73 for middle schools and 77.00 for high schools. The state CCRPI average was 75.

For Gilmer County Charter School System, the averages for elementary, middle and high school were 74.3, 79.1 and 71. The district average is 75.2, which exceeded the state average.

EES staff are treated to a steak lunch in celebration of the hard work to get the school to a 13.6 point increase on the 2017 CCRPI.

EES staff are treated to a steak lunch in celebration of the hard work to get the school to a 13.6 point increase on the 2017 CCRPI.

The numbers are based on data from the 2016-2017 academic year. The CCRPI incorporates 50 points for achievement, 40 points for progress and 10 points for achievement gap. The score can also include additional Challenge Points.

Ellijay Elementary, Gilmer Middle and Clear Creek Middle are well above the state CCRPI average; however, there is still continued work to be done.

Gilmer High Schools’ graduation rate is well above the state average and we are working to close the gap on CCRPI performance at the high school level.

Our teachers, leaders, and staff have worked diligently to focus their efforts on student achievement and success. The hard work and dedication of each school’s team led to the improved CCRPI scores and they should definitely be commended.

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