Above and below: Buster Cushing, left, is sworn in by Cherokee County State Court Judge A. Dee Morris to serve as CCSD's new School Police Chief, as his daughter, Preslie; wife, Christy; and son, Sadler, look on.
The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, June 20, 2019 unanimously approved the Superintendent’s proposed budget for next school year and celebrated the swearing-in of a new CCSD School Police Chief.
The budget increases investments in hiring and supporting the best teachers and staff possible, continues classroom size reductions and funds new efforts to help at-risk students -- all while keeping the millage rate steady and paying down construction debt. Three public hearings were held on the budget and millage rate, with no speakers signing up.
The $481 Million general fund day-to-day operating budget includes a $3,000 raise for all certified employees, a 2% raise for all classified employees, annual longevity step increases for all eligible employees and increases in starting teacher pay and salaries for specific positions, including police officers. Of all spending, 67% is in the classroom, 27% is in student support, such as counselors and nurses, and 6% is in other operating costs.
The zero-based budget continues CCSD’s focus on fiscal conservatism, with a half a mill being shifted from operations to debt service to further reduce borrowing for construction and technology, which both limits interest costs and positions CCSD for an improved credit rating; and calls for reduced short-term borrowing and maintenance of a healthy cash reserve.
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING
More will be spent on assisting students’ emotional needs beginning with this budget, including the hiring of CCSD’s first two mental health counselors. This investment is in line with the findings of the Superintendent’s first Ad Hoc Committee studying Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), a national movement in education to ensure the health and well-being of students and school employees.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower reviewed the Committee’s report, which is online here, with the School Board during the meeting.
Dr. Hightower praised the Committee, which was made up of teachers, administrators and school counselors, nurses and psychologists, for its dedication, and he committed to phasing in its recommendations, with work already underway on first implementation steps. The recommendations are numerous, with both specific and broad goals ranging from identifying a staff person to lead these initiatives to redefining counselor responsibilities to allow more focus on SEL counseling.
While CCSD wants every student to excel academically at the highest level possible, Dr. Hightower said it’s clear that stress related to school can have detrimental effects on students’ health and well-being.
“We want them to be challenged, but we also want them to be healthy,” he said, noting the alarming nationwide trends in rising levels of student anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, which are triggered by numerous factors in addition to school. “We know this isn’t just on us, but we just can’t put our heads in the sand. We need to work together as a District and a School Board to take good care of our kids.”
School Board Chair Kyla Cromer joined Dr. Hightower in this commitment and added that she’s very glad to see the recommendations also address employee mental health.
“I really believe we will be a leader in helping our kids,” she said.
Dr. Hightower also announced CCSD’s first educator summit in 25 years: “CCSD Ed Talks” will be an annual professional development event held one morning during July pre-planning for all certified staff. This year’s session will feature nationally renowned educator, author and speaker Weston Kieschnick. In addition hearing the “Bold School” author, Dr. Hightower will speak about CCSD’s expanded efforts to focus on SEL.
NEW POLICE CHIEF
Thursday’s meeting kicked off with a special ceremony to swear in the new Chief for CCSD’s School Police Department: Buster Cushing, who recently retired as a Major with the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office and just returned from the FBI National Academy program for law enforcement leaders.
His longtime friend, Cherokee County State Court Judge A. Dee Morris, conducted the ceremony, which was attended by Chief Cushing’s family and a crowd of local law enforcement leaders including Sheriff Frank Reynolds and Chief Deputy Chief Ken Ball, as well as immediate past Sheriff Roger Garrison.
“You’re excited we’re getting one of your best, and we’re excited we’re getting one of your best,” Dr. Hightower told the audience, which rose to give Chief Cushing a standing ovation. “We think a lot of Buster. It’s a very forward moment for us as a School District and school police department.”
The School Board also:
• Recognized its collaborative efforts to earn the Georgia School Board Association’s Distinguished Board Award, an elite honor bestowed upon school boards for achieving the highest levels of excellence in board governance;
• Recognized the Cherokee County School Nutrition department, led by Director Tina Farmer, for its successful roll-out of an expanded summer meals program that now includes a renovated school bus for delivery. The annual program, which is completely funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, last summer served 55,000 meals to Cherokee County children in need;
• Recognized 2018-19 Elementary Science Olympiad Winners;
• Recognized new Sixes Elementary School Principal Dr. Ashley Kennerly and CCSD Supervisor of Special Education Melissa Sneed upon their selection for Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce "Top 10 in 10" 2019 class;
• Recognized Georgia High School Association State and Regional Champions;
• Recognized Sequoyah High School Class of 2019 graduate Kerrison Carter as recipient of the $1,000 Judy Johnson Memorial Scholarship awarded by the Cherokee County School Nutrition Association;
• Recognized the six Class of 2019 graduates – one from each CCSD high school – receiving the inaugural $1,000 ABM Industry Group, LLC scholarships;
• Renewed Partnership Agreements with the Marine Corps League and First Baptist Church of Woodstock and approved a new Partnership Agreement with Walden University;
• Approved the first reading of the annual update of School Board Policies;
• Approved monthly financial reports;
• Approved out-of-state travel and out-of-state and overnight field trips;
• Approved the monthly capital outlay projects report;
• Approved special lease agreements;
• Approved the monthly personnel report; and,
• Approved authorizing contract negotiations with Social Sentinel for SEL and safety and security services.
Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2019
Congratulations to the six Class of 2019 graduates – one from each CCSD high school – receiving the inaugural $1,000 ABM Industry Group, LLC scholarships. Randy Gehman and Douglas McKee of ABM congratulate, from left to right, Jordan Fuller of Woodstock HS, Isabelle Hurdle of Creekview HS,Briana Bradley of River Ridge HS, Chase Thomas of Etowah HS and Nohemy Marin-Pacheco of Sequoyah HS. Not pictured: Sydney Oliver of Cherokee HS.