Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower welcomes the 2016-17 Student Advisor and Student Delegates to the Cherokee County School Board at the Aug. 11, 2016 School Board Meeting. From left to right, front row: Meghan Hines, Etowah HS; Kayla Brader, Woodstock HS; Parker Quarles, Creekview HS; second row: Julia Kochansky of Cherokee HS; Jordan Mason of River Ridge HS; Isabelle Riddle of Sequoyah HS; back row: Student Advisory Joseph Henderson of ACE Academy.
The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, August 11, 2016, devoted its strategic work session to an update on the financial state of the Cherokee County School District, and the Board heard very good news.
The School District has received a “clean opinion” on its most recent financial audit, with no findings, which means that the finances and accounting all are in proper order and following best practices. The State also has issued its letter of acceptance, which closes the process.
The School District’s overall financial position continues to improve as the county recovers from the recession, with local property tax collections expected to exceed projections by approximately $3.5 Million, which will increase reserves. Intentionally increasing the reserves “savings account” is one way that CCSD is strategically improving its credit rating from the already positive Aa2 and AA levels, as rated by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, to the top AAA rating.
“We’re in much better shape than we have been,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said, noting he and his staff are meeting with county government leaders to discuss possibly adjusting the tax collection timeline to further improve CCSD’s financial position as it relates to the timing of the annual infusion of local tax dollars into the operating budget.
The School Board then reviewed more detailed plans for the five-year renovation plan to begin if the Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) renewal is approved by voters in November. The renewal of the penny sales tax is focused on: retiring bond debt from school construction; building new classrooms and learning spaces at three schools; continuing to fulfill technology infrastructure and instructional needs; acquiring land for future school construction; purchasing 35 replacement school buses; and major renovation projects at more than two dozen schools.
In addition to reviewing a detailed list of those renovation projects, the School Board heard plans to install artificial turf in all of CCSD’s high school stadiums, which will save $1.6 Million in grass field maintenance costs over the lifetime of the turf… about $110,867 in savings a year that could instead be spent on teaching and learning in CCSD classrooms.
The installation of artificial turf, which already has been completed in other metro school systems such as Cobb, Forsyth and Fulton counties, offers other benefits in addition to the savings, such as fewer injuries to students, faster recovery time after rain and increased usage opportunities by multiple athletic teams and marching bands for both games and practices.
If the Education SPLOST is approved in November, the turf installation would likely take place the summer of 2018; while Etowah HS already has turf that was installed by its school foundation, it would receive a needed resurfacing as part of the project. Additionally, new restrooms would be installed at the Etowah HS and Sequoyah HS stadiums to replacing outdated facilities.
School Board Member Clark Menard said he appreciates the thought put into developing the Education SPLOST plans.
“Paying down the debt and increasing our bond rating will have a direct impact on being able to meet our financial obligations,” Mr. Menard said, adding he sees the value in projects like the turf installation that reduce maintenance and operating costs. “It’s not sexy. It’s not a great big high school. But it provides some real return for our operating fund.”
The School Board also heard another installment in a series of staff presentations on the negative impact the Governor’s Opportunity School District Constitutional Amendment, which will be on the ballot in November, would have on CCSD if approved by voters.
The Amendment would allow the State to take over so-called “failing schools” and turn operations of the schools and their assets paid for with local monies over to for-profit private operators overseen by an appointed statewide czar -- despite the fact that the metric (CCRPI) used to issue this label is based on a faulty barometer of achievement.
“How can the State seriously consider overriding local control of a community school based upon a metric that changes each year,” Dr. Hightower said. “They’re using a metric that’s seriously flawed, and this is as high-stakes as it gets.”
School Board Members spoke up in agreement with Dr. Hightower’s concerns; and at the Sept. 1 meeting, the Board likely will consider adopting a resolution opposing the Constitutional Amendment.
“This really bothers me,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said of the potential for State takeover of local schools. “Our schools are working their tails off… the students are working, the teachers are working, the parents are working.”
School Board Member Mike Chapman said it’s a smack in the face to anyone who supports local control of their community schools, but the ballot language is deceptive.
“The language is all motherhood and apple pie, unicorns and rainbows,” he said. “It’s crazy what’s going on here and counter to everything we talk about [as conservatives].”
During its regular meeting, the School Board also:
- Recognized Georgia PTA Outstanding School PTAs and Award Winners;
- Recognized Johnston ES as a National Common Sense Digital Citizenship Certified School and Media Specialist Angel Ginn as a National Common Sense Digital Citizenship Certified Educator;
- Recognized CCSD Technology Project Specialist Sandi Adams as a National Microsoft Innovator Educator Expert Award winner;
- Recognized Creekland Middle School’s Sixth-Grade Academic Bowl Team for Nationals win;
- Recognized the 2016-17 Student Advisor to School Board, Joseph Henderson of ACE Academy, and Student Delegates;
- Approved renewal of Partnership Agreements with Cherokee County Council of PTA and Cherokee County YMCA;
- Approved the first reading of technical modifications to School Board Policies;
- Approved monthly Education SPLOST report;
- Approved out-of-state travel;
- Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
- Approved the monthly capital outlay projects report;
- Approved special lease agreements;
- Approved monthly personnel recommendations; and,
- Began planning for required annual School Board Member training.
Next School Board meeting: 7 p.m. Sept. 1, 2016