The Tift County Board of Education kicked off their first regular meeting for the 2014 year with one less board member.
Board member Gannon Hall announced in December that he would be stepping down from the board due to his family’s move from District 3 into District 1. Stacey Beckham, Tift County Schools’ director of communications, explained that school board policy and state law requires that board members live within the district they represent.
Hall told The Tifton Gazette in an interview in December he was very disappointed that he had to step down from his position, but he understood the rules and policies are in place for a reason. He said he and his family had a chance to sell their house and move into the country onto some family land. He later learned that he had moved out of District 3, the district he was elected in, and into District 1. He thanked the people of District 3 for giving him the opportunity to serve them and the community, as well as Superintendent Patrick Atwater and fellow board members.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Hall took a moment to thank members once again, including staff.
“I did enjoy my time on there (the board) and I hate that I had to leave at the time that I did,” he said. “I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it and I felt like I was getting to know y’all a little better and better each time. But, we got to move forward at this time and that’s OK.”
He also said a few words about the staff sitting in the room.
“We got a bunch of good people, and they do a good job for us and it makes you proud,” he said. Everyone stood and clapped. Hall then went to each member, hugging and shaking their hands. On behalf of the board, Chairwoman Kim Rutland thanked Hall for all that he’s done during his service.
The board is now seeking to fill Hall’s vacancy. The following are the required qualifications for any person appointed to the board of education:
• The person must have lived in the Tift County School District for at least the preceding 12 months.
• The person’s home must lie within the boundary lines of Education District 3 of the Tift County School District, and the person must have lived there for at least the preceding six months.
• The person must not be serving as a member of the governing body of a private elementary or secondary educational institution.
• The person must not be employed by the Tift County Board of Education.
• The person must not be employed by the Georgia Department of Education, nor serve as a member of the state board of education.
• The person must not have a spouse, child, sibling or parent, nor have the spouse of a child, sibling or parent sitting as a member of the Tift County Board of Education.
• The person must not have a spouse, child, sibling or parent, nor have the spouse of a child, sibling or parent serving as the superintendent of the Tift County School System or as a principal, assistant principal or system administrative staff member in the Tift County School System whose employment with the local system as the superintendent or as a principal, assistant principal or system administrative staff member in the Tift County School System began on or after Jan. 1, 2010.
• The person must read the Code of Ethics and the Conflict of Interest provisions applicable to board members and agree to abide by them.
• The person must agree to annually disclose compliance with the state board’s policy on training, the Code of Ethics of the local board and the Conflict of Interest provisions applicable to board members.
• The person to be appointed must sign an affidavit swearing he or she is qualified to serve.
• The person must abide by any and all other federal, state and local laws applicable to school board members.
• The person must be sworn in by the Judge of the Probate Court of Tift County.
Once the board appoints a person, it is Atwater’s duty to certify to the secretary of state, the state school superintendent and the governor that the vacancy has been filled by a qualified person. This person would serve out the rest of Hall’s term. Board attorney Hank Pittman recommended they fill the position soon.
Board member Rita Griffin nominated John Smith for vice chairman, which was seconded by board member Marian Richbourg and unanimously approved. Smith, who will be serving in this position a second time, said he appreciated the opportunity and that it’s been a pleasure serving.
“There has never been one single thing that I have asked you to do that you have not, and I appreciate that very much,” Rutland said.
When giving his report on the school system’s finances, Finance Director Klinton Guess said all bills are current and they’re on track as planned at this point with their budget.
Atwater discussed Title I issues. He said Tammie Smith, director of federal programs, came to him concerned about a loss of $133,000 to their Title I funds which have already been appropriated and approved for this year. He asked Smith and Guess to meet with Pittman if needed to research the loss.
Atwater said they have found that this didn’t impact all school systems. He said several of the online charter schools in Georgia were upset with the method in which the state was using to determine who got Title 1 monies and how, and sent their lawyers to Washington, D.C., who were successful in lobbying the United States Department of Education to change the method by which the state distributes the money. The vote is to happen today, Atwater noted.
“All likelihood is that they will vote to approve to do what the federal government is telling them to do, which means we will lose $133,000,” he said. He added they are still looking into the matter, and there’s a lot of information that they have yet to gather.
Atwater noted the $133,000 is a five-year adjustment.
In addition, he said the legislature session has started and there’s a lot of things on the ticket they’re looking at, including a 3 percent raise for certified staff at the state salary scale. He said the only way this money would truly flow is if the state gave teachers the raise and fully funded Quality Basic Education. A 3 percent raise for Tift County Schools for certified staff only is about a $948,000 cost. If the state fully funded QBE, the school system would be able to get that money back. They also looked at a 3 percent raise for their classified staff, which would be $212,000.
Guess explained that if there’s a 3 percent raise and nothing is put back in QBE, then they’re going to end up with six furlough days or more.
“So the teachers are going to end up in worse shape than they are now essentially, even with a 3 percent raise. The numbers are going to wash,” he said, adding that most people are pushing for the state to restore funds to QBE. He said the board is not against giving their staff a raise, but they would be giving most of them a raise if funds are restored to QBE. Atwater said they’re recommending restoring QBE for 180 days of instruction. He noted this is all preliminary and they’re watching it on a daily basis.
Any church or civic group interested in having Guess come do a presentation about the school system’s financial challenges can contact him at the board office at 387-2400.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.