The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, Nov. 18, approved its 2022 Legislative Partnership Priorities, which advocate for continued local control of public education decisions and the end of State educational funding budget cuts.
[NOTE: Photos from the meeting's staff and student recognitions are online here]
The Priorities is an annual list published by the School Board outlining its stand on education issues related to Local Control and Governance, Educational Opportunities and Funding anticipated to come up for a vote before the State Legislature. The list, which includes contact information for all of Cherokee County’s State Legislators so residents can help lobby for public schools, is published online here.
The School Board, in regard to Local Control and Governance, asks legislators to support legislation that maintains School Board’s decision-making power on such issues as local school year calendars and local policies allowing parents to challenge instructional materials. The Priorities also ask legislators to: eliminate the unsafe practice of using schools as public polling places during school days; oppose efforts to limit school system’s legal protections; and continue to allow retired educators to work part-time, when needed, to help support schools.
In regard to Educational Opportunities, the School Board asks legislators to support offering a second diploma option focused on workforce readiness skills; providing broadband internet access for all Georgia families; and Mountain Education Charter High School, a State Charter High School that CCSD partners with in order to provide families an evening high school choice with self-paced curriculum. The CCSD location is at Etowah East on the Etowah High School campus.
The School Board, in regard to Funding, asks legislators to vote to restore full State educational funding, which this school year was reduced for CCSD schools by $9.4 Million through State “austerity cuts.” Additionally, the School Board asks legislators to adjust State educational funding to fully cover the actual cost of underfunded services, such as student transportation services, school counselors, school nurses, school police officers and other school safety and security measures. The Priorities also request that legislators oppose the use of State tax dollars for private school and home school vouchers; make any State compensation increases for teachers permanent State salary increases; and protect Teacher Retirement System benefits for future educators.
School Board Chair Kyla Cromer and School Board member Clark Menard spoke to the role of School Board members to advocate for the State to fully fund public education, which is a Constitutional obligation of the State Legislature.
“We would like the money they need to legally provide to us. We want to make sure we get our fair share,” Mr. Menard said. “You would call us financially irresponsible if we didn’t. It does take money to run a school district. It does take money to pay teachers.”
The School Board on Thursday also approved one-time retention bonuses for CCSD employees to be paid using $5.5 Million in federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds. The bonuses, which will be paid out in November paychecks, will be $1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for specific, District-allocated part-time employees ( part-time paraprofessionals, part-time Parent Engagement Facilitators and part-time School Nutrition Workers only) actively employed through Nov. 30, 2021. Employees hired into these categories between Dec. 1, 2021 and March 1, 2022 and who remain employed through the end of the school year will be eligible for this same retention bonus at the conclusion of the school year. School Board Members do not receive bonuses.
Earlier this school year, CCSD increased the hourly rates for other part-time employees to better reflect the current labor market and encourage both recruitment and retention of critically important staff, including substitutes, cafeteria monitors, After School Program workers, clerical staff, paraprofessionals and more.
School Board members at several points during the meeting spoke of their appreciation to employees for their service throughout the pandemic.
“It’s the least we can do for all that our teachers have gone through the past year and a half, two years,” School Board member Mike Chapman said in recognition of their efforts to continue excellent instruction throughout the pandemic’s challenges. “I really appreciate all that our teachers and staff do.”
Also on Thursday, the School Board adopted a resolution declaring official election results for the Nov. 2 renewal of the Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), which was approved by 75% of voters – an even higher rate of approval than the last renewal. The results, which were ratified by the Board of Cherokee County Elections and Voter Registration, also show that the continuation was approved by the majority of voters in every precinct countywide.
The Ed SPLOST is used for school construction projects and other major capital outlay expenses like replacing aging high-mileage school buses and outdated technology. Planned construction projects include the new/replacement Cherokee HS and Free Home ES; new classrooms at Creekview HS, Woodstock HS, Creekland MS and Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy; second gyms at Creekview HS and River Ridge HS; and athletic facility improvements at Etowah HS and Sequoyah HS.
The strong approval of the School Board’s request to continue the Ed SPLOST occurred despite efforts by political groups to circulate misinformation in the days before the election. To correct the record in regard to this misinformation, Dr. Hightower shared an Ed SPLOST factsheet with the School Board during the meeting, which also is published on the CCSD website online here. Ms. Cromer thanked the community for its approval of the Ed SPLOST renewal on Nov. 2, with 75% of voters supporting the School Board’s proposal.
Dr. Hightower also shared additional positive fiscal news with the School Board. Due to their fiscally conservative measures, they will be able, in the spring, to retire a bonds series from past borrowing more than 10 years ahead of schedule -- avoiding $7.8 Million in interest costs and further improving CCSD’s fiscal position, which influences borrowing capacity and credit ratings.
“We’ve flipped this equation to the positive,” Mr. Menard said, thanking his fellow Board members and Dr. Hightower and his staff for their work to reduce CCSD’s bond debt. “This is significant.”
The School Board also took the following action:
- School Board member Patsy Jordan recognized Macedonia ES in honor of its 100th anniversary and Centennial Celebration;
- School Board member Kelly Poole thanked CCSD staff for their successful completion of numerous school construction projects and other improvements and thanked teachers and staff for their continued dedication to students;
- Recognized Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy School Nurse Nadia Jones as recipient of the Georgia RISE (Recognizing Inspirational School Employees) Award. She now is one of two Georgia nominees for the U.S. Department of Education’s RISE Award;
- Recognized CCSD high school seniors who earned a Certificate of Excellence for Outstanding Achievement from the Georgia Career and Technical Student Organization;
- Recognized Creekview HS junior Cesar Garcia for earning third place at the 2021 Georgia Career and Technical Instruction Competition Fair Contest;
- Recognized the Creekview HS Army JROTC Program as the Georgia State Raider Champions;
- Recognized CCSD’s Georgia High School Association State and Regional Champions: Cherokee HS Fast Pitch Softball Team, Region 5-7A Champions; Cherokee HS Volleyball Coach Jamison Horton, 7A State Coach of the Year; Creekview HS cross-country runner Bryson Gates, 6A State Runner Up and Region 7-6A Champion; Creekview HS Fast Pitch Softball Team, Region 7-6A Champions; Creekview HS One Act Play Cast and Crew, Region 7-6A Champions; Etowah HS cross-country runner Dru Moore, Region 5-7A Champion; River Ridge HS Fast Pitch Softball Team, 6A State Runner Up and Region 7-6A Coach of the Year Andrew Marinelli; Sequoyah HS Cross Country Team, Region 7-6A Boys Champions;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved out-of-state travel for employees;
- Approved out-of-state and overnight field trips requests for students;
- Approved the monthly Capital Outlay Projects update;
- Approved the monthly personnel report, including naming Lauren Wade, administrator for CCSD’s elementary school Digital Learning program, to a full assistant principal position including that role; and
- Approved an attendance area map correction for a residential development being planned on the northeast corner of North Arnold Mill Road and Arnold Mill Road so the neighborhood will be fully contained in the same school zone (Mountain Road ES, Dean Rusk MS, Sequoyah HS).