BOE approves millage rate, makes pledge to Rec Department
Board promises $100,000 to county’s
planned Aquatic Facility project
By Kathryn Purcell
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, the Morgan County Board of Education elected to go to the rollback rate of 12.724 mils.
The Board, after meeting Monday, found out Thursday that the county’s tax digest decreased slightly, a result of the ongoing appeals process at the Morgan County Board of Assessors office.
“The digest is a little lower today than it was the last time we looked at it,” Superintendent Stan DeJarnett said. “To go to the rollback rate, it’s going to necessitate that we take $3,000 more out of reserves than we thought Monday.”
In total, the Board will take over $1.5 million out of reserves to make their budget.
Also at the meeting, the Board voted unanimously to pledge $100,000, to be taken from ELOST (Education Local Option Sales Tax) funds, to the Morgan County Recreation Department for the construction of part of the county’s Aquatic Facility.
“They’re not proposing to do the entire project right now; they’re just proposing to do the building that contains the lap pool,” DeJarnett said.
While the Board pledged the money now, they won’t be expected to actually pay until the beginning of 2009.
“After Christmas we would be in a much better position to make this transaction,” DeJarnett said. “Barring a drastic drop in ELOST collections, I think we’ll be in good enough shape in January or February.”
The budget for the facility – or $750,000 to be paid for with SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds – fell short of the bid received for the pool, which totaled just over $1 million.
According to Board Chairman Nelson Hale, the Rec Department asked for, and received, a pledge of $100,000 from both the Board of Education and from the Madison City Council.
With these pledges and the $20,000 received in private donations, Rec Department Director Bill Wood estimates that the project will carry a $30,000 balance, which the commissioners will consider at their next meeting.
Board members agreed on committing to the pledge.
“This would be a great thing for Morgan County,” Board member Dave Belton said. “It’s a good faith gesture.”
“I feel like we should do it; it would be a good idea for us to help out,” Board member Jimmy Paxson said.
In other news, former teacher and Madison resident and city councilman Michael Naples addressed the Board with several concerns, including additional student services, instructional materials and the policy relative to addressing the Board.
In speaking about the addition of student services, Naples asked that the Board consider adapting the recently passed policy regarding drug testing at Morgan County High School to also include testing for alcohol and tobacco.
“If, in fact, the goal is to help students with substance abuse problems, we’re missing it with just the drug testing policy,” Naples said. “We’re going to pick up drugs; we’re not going to the majority of students with problems which are, at least in my perspective, alcohol and tobacco products.”
Additionally, Naples said that he felt the policy was of a disciplinary nature, despite what was said at the public meeting held in May.
Naples also suggested that the Board consider creating a position for a substance abuse counselor at the high school.
“This is an on-campus professional who would see students recommended to him or her by staff members, other students or the student himself could come to this person,” Naples said. “It would go a long way in helping students with substance abuse problems without the threat of disciplinary problems.”
Additionally, Naples asked that the Board consider hiring additional guidance counselors for the high school, so that each class – freshman, sophomore, junior and senior – was assigned one counselor. Naples expressed that his thinking was that, by allowing each counselor to shadow a class for all four years, the counselor would come to know the strengths and weaknesses of students and, therefore, be better able to assist them in choosing courses, as well as applying to colleges.
Finally, in addressing the need for additional student services, Naples asked that the Board consider extending the hours of the high school’s Media Center.
“I suggest that the Media Center at the high school stay open after school until the last athletic practice, or any other activity that’s after school, ends,” Naples said.
Naples contends that keeping the Media Center open would allow students extra time to work with the facility’s reference materials, which cater to the high school’s curriculum, and provides a central place at which parents can find children if they are picking them up from after-school activities. Naples also suggested a bus be available, at least on a trial basis, to take those participating in after-school activities home.
As far as instructional materials, Naples commended the Board for adding Latin as a course available at the high school.
He went on to urge the Board that a take-home textbook be available to every student in every appropriate subject area, and suggested an audit be done to determine which classes don’t have take-home textbooks and the reason why they don’t.
Finally, Naples asked the Board to consider their policy regarding the procedure for public comment at their meetings.
“One, I want to know the overriding rationale for the policy whereby one is supposed to contact the Board in writing the Thursday before the meeting,” Naples said. “Secondly, I’d like you to ask yourself how does the school board justify voting on matters about which members of the public might have an opinion, pro or con. Is not public input desired?”
Naples suggested the Board re-visit the policy and consider developing an alternative procedure for members of the public to voice their opinion at each month’s meeting.
“I really believe that allowing for public input before a vote on an action item and an open public comment period at meeting’s end would be a great PR ploy for the school board,” Naples said. “There are some cynics in Madison, and in Rutledge, and in Buckhead who don’t think that their input is wanted, and they think that the policy is built in to discourage them from coming to the Board.”
Following Naples’ comments, Hale stated that the Board utilizes their meetings each month for business purposes, offering that Board members are available throughout the month for those who wish to contact them to voice their concerns.
“It’s been a long-standing policy with this Board and by the state Board of Education and many others boards across the state…our meetings are a business meeting, not a public forum,” Hale said. “We are open for public input anytime they want to e-mail into the Web site, call any of us…I talk with many [people], whether they’re in my district or not.”
“Our Board policy is consistent with most of the other school boards that I’ve discussed this with,” DeJarnett agreed. “We’ve checked with the Georgia School Boards Association. We’re not trying to restrict public comment; we’re just trying to keep our meetings focused on the business of the Board…I don’t think that three days before a Board meeting is unreasonable to ask the public.”
DeJarnett continued to thank Naples for his suggestions regarding additional student services and instructional materials, and stated he’d look into the costs and get the information back to the Board.
Additionally, he informed Naples that Assistant Superintendent Ralph Bennett provides an audit of textbooks to the Board each August. Moreover, DeJarnett assured Naples that take-home textbooks were always provided in core areas of study.
Addressing the number of guidance counselors at Morgan County High School, DeJarnett stated that proportion of counselors to students at the high school is currently in compliance with state guidelines.
“Right now the ratio of counselors to students us a matter of state funding,” DeJarnett said. “With a certain number of students we get an allotment for a certain number of counselors…If principals need more resources, they’re not afraid to ask for them, and the Board’s not afraid to consider them.”