Finances and transitions for area schools in 2011
by Mark Andrews
Dec 30, 2011 | 2250 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cartersville School Superintendent Howard Hinesley addresses parents, students and guests at the GateKey Scholarship Program’s award ceremony.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
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The past 12 months have brought many changes to the local school systems, stemming from financial struggles to new facilities and academic endeavors. This article will look at five of the year's top stories in education.

Nepotism

The nepotism case involving the Bartow County School Board and former school board chairman Lamar Grizzle ended in May and cost the board approximately $9,000 more than expected. The case concerned a state law limiting family members of school administrators from being elected to their local school board.

Board attorney Boyd Pettit said the initial estimate he gave the board to get through the preliminary injunction stage of the case was about $17,000, and that number stayed between about $17,000 and $20,000. The total cost of the case was $26,099.

He said the higher cost comes from an appeal made by the state concerning the courts siding with the school board on the district level in Rome.

"The state appealed the decision and there was another ... $5,000 or $6,000 spent in connection with the appeal that was over and above what was estimated for the stage to get a preliminary injunction granted," Pettit said.

Pettit added, "The federal court in Rome did grant the board's petition and granted an injunction and then several months later the appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part the judges' decision, but that was the purpose for which there were some additional fees beyond what was estimated was because the state did appeal the decision."

Superintendent John Harper said the school board is disappointed in the outcome of the case.

"The final decision was not in the favor of the board, we all believed it was really inappropriate for the legislature to single out school boards and make the decisions they made with that legislation to restrict board membership," Harper said. "Most of us know the majority of school systems in Georgia are rural school systems and when people in those rural areas run for the school board, they're related to most of the people in the community. We were very disappointed the ruling was turned around because we all believed that we were right, we chased that piece of legislation as far as we could and once the ruling was made to overturn that essential first ruling, then we believed we had pursued as far as we could and unfortunately there were some additional expenses involved in that."

Grizzle and former Gainesville City Board of Education Member Kelvin Simmons filed on Jan. 11 in the U.S. District Court in Rome a suit contending that provisions created under Georgia Code 20-2-51(c) are unconstitutional. It named Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the state election board and the County Executive Committee of the Bartow County Republican Party as defendants.

Under 20-2-51(c), which was established under Georgia House Bill 251, passed last year by the state General Assembly, "No person who has an immediate family member sitting on a local board of education or serving as the local school superintendent or as a principal, assistant principal, or system administrative staff in the local school system shall be eligible to serve as a member of such local board of education." Immediate family is defined as "a spouse, child, sibling, or parent or the spouse of a child, sibling or parent."

Bartow schools' budget

The higher cost of the Grizzle case comes during a financial crunch for Bartow County schools. The system is facing a FY 2012 budget with a decrease in the general fund by about $6.85 million and more than $6 million lost in state funding leading to a projected $8.5 million ending general fund balance.

With the budget comes a projected 4.5 percent cut in instruction, 30 percent in general administration and 16 percent in central support services -- all proposed in June.

"The $8.5 million [ending general fund balance] which is projected would be below what we would want to target as 10 percent of our general expenditures," Chief Financial Advisor Todd Hooper said. "Basically right at $11 million is what you typically want to maintain in a fund balance."

Harper said as the budget has seen a reduction over the years, the only positions lost to employees in the school system included Spanish teacher positions at the middle school level and parent coordinators. He said the majority of these employees found positions elsewhere in the school system.

He said furloughs and downsizing positions in the school system has helped with costs over the last few years.

"We've cut back a lot of positions, from 236 to a reduced amount," Harper said. "I have two people in the curriculum area who will be taking on double job responsibilities, so we've eliminated a couple of positions there, we've eliminated over 20 positions in the board office in the last couple of years. We focus on classroom instruction because that's what's important."

Cass High School

Bartow's new 350,000 square-foot Cass High School opened its doors in January after being delayed from August due to safety concerns, costing the system about $8 million in sinkhole repair. The cost of the school was about $67 million and each classroom is equipped with a smart board, projector, new furniture and appliances and the school has a maximum capacity of 2,000.

The school uses energy conservative lighting and maintains the amenities that further the CHS traditions, such as a football stadium with a seating capacity of 6,000 as well as an auditorium and basketball gym. Other improvements at the school include choral and band rooms equipped with sound barriers, a greenhouse, an Army JROTC area and courtyard.

To keep students safe, there is a 24-hour surveillance system in place with about 250 cameras throughout the school. The school is being financed through Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

No Child Left Behind Waiver

Younger students at the new CHS will not face some of the academic challenges as their peers and teachers may begin feeling relief as State Superintendent John Barge formally submitted a No Child Left Behind waiver to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Georgia is one of the first states seeking a waiver from some of the requirements within NCLB, previously requesting an application for a waiver in September alongside U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Barge has proposed a College and Career Ready Performance Index to measure performance rather than using NCLB standards.

According to a press release, the CCRPI will, "measure the extent to which a school, school district, and the state are successfully making progress on a number of accountability indicators, such as content mastery, student attendance and the next level of preparation."

Separate scores will be provided in three areas to capture the essential work of individual schools and the school-wide scores in these areas will produce a school's overall CCRPI score. The areas are Achievement Score, based upon current year data; Progress Score, based upon current and prior year data; and Achievement Gap Closure Score, based upon gap closure at the state or school level.

"Through Georgia's College and Career Ready Performance Index, we will be able to use multiple indicators to determine a school's overall impact on our students," Barge said in the release. "This approach will do more to ensure that the K-12 experience provides students with the academic preparation to compete globally, as well as the career development skills aligned with the evolving requirements of our workforce."

NCLB has been widely criticized for causing unnecessary stress on educators and was named as a contributing factor in the Atlanta cheating scandal.

GateKey a model for the state

In August, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that Georgia will use the Cartersville Public School System's GateKey Scholarship as a model for a needs-based scholarship program.

The GateKey scholarship program, which began in 2007 through the Cartersville Schools Foundation, awards college scholarships for eligible students beginning as early as the fourth grade while holding students accountable for their grades and behavior throughout their academic career.

The scholarships are two-year scholarships awarded for Chattahoochee Technical College or Georgia Highlands College. However, foundation president Lisa Bell said recipients can petition the foundation to use scholarship funds toward other colleges.

She explained the GateKey program takes students who are considered to be college-bound, but may lack the finances or other support systems to make it to college once they graduate.

Georgia is one of 10 states to be awarded $1 million by Complete College America to fuel policy innovations and reforms aimed at significantly increasing college completion.