With a nearly 8 percent increase in property taxes and $74 million from the state, the Clarke County School District administration proposed a 2020 balanced budget of an estimated $165 million at the May 9 school board meeting.
State money goes only so far, so local taxpayers will pay for 179 paraprofessionals; art, music and PE teachers; additional social workers, school psychologists and counselors; and an expanded school nursing program. $7.2 million will cover the staff cost of transporting children to and from school, since the state ponies up only $1 million.
For every grade, Clarke County classrooms have on average smaller populations than what the state permits, and this ratio will continue. Kindergarten, third grade and sixth grade represent the biggest differences. Next year will see the addition of a community support specialist, Community in Schools staff in Gaines and Alps Road elementary schools, an assistant chief of police and athletic trainers in the high schools. There’s also going to be a third-party administrator for substitute teachers and a new in-school model for alternative education.
$450,000 for an increased number of social and emotional learning staff is proposed to come from innovation funds that, under the charter system, were available to each school to be used as the Local School Governance Teams saw fit.
At Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary, for example, the LSGT received a grant of about $20,000 to staff a Wildlife Summer Camp in 2018, said a team member. The camp provided transportation and a meal and brought kindergarteners and first graders to school for 12 days in July, where they focused on literacy, math and social and emotional development. Teachers who volunteered for the camp received a small stipend. The ratio was one teacher for every six children. Parents, teachers and children all said the camp was a positive experience, and hoped to repeat it this summer—only to learn the fiscal year ends in June and thus, there wouldn’t be money to pay for the camp in July.
After learning of Means’ plan for funding additional social and emotional learning staff, board member Greg Davis asked, “Have you brought the LSGTs into the discussions about the innovation grants? Or are they hearing about it the way that we are?”
Means said he gave a statement to the school principals about communicating to the LSGTs. He said the use of the innovation grants is “not their purview,” and that the district makes the decision. LSGTs can still apply for grant money—there will be $150,000 remaining.
As the May meeting of the Clarke County School Board progressed, it wasn’t clear initially whether outgoing board President Jared Bybee—who is moving to California in June—will be involved in selecting the new president. Greg Davis wanted to hold the election after a new board member from District 4—Bybee’s district—is appointed. At a meeting last week, member John Knox also said Bybee should have no vote in selecting his replacement.
Means said “things are not optimal, not just for the board members, but how they trickle down to staff.” He said he’s concerned about the board being as “optimal” as possible. So, on May 16, there will be a called meeting at 5 p.m. in the Heritage Room of the Career Academy to elect a new board president, without the board member from District 5 participating.
Thursday’s meeting brought speakers who were sometimes emotional. Parent Katrina Evans encouraged board members to drop in at various schools and to talk with teachers, parents and children about schools. She also said “asking tough questions isn’t racist.”
Charlie Maddox presented a petition that had circulated online that bore, he said, 900 signatures supporting Means’ plan for CCSD facilities. Presented in November, the plan would pave over the West Broad Farmers Market, where the Athens Land Trust and neighboring residents have been raising food and holding community events for years. Under Means’ plan, the old West Broad School would house early learning classrooms and other facilities. Means has since proposed having an early learning center on the old Gaines Elementary property. The ALT has presented an alternative plan that would keep the garden and use the building for a small business incubator, entrepreneurship classes and other community services.
Brent Andrews, a Cedar Shoals High School English teacher, said he would like UGA’s College of Education to have courses that prepare soon-to-be teachers to deal with students who are coping with trauma. UGA education students need to learn about the challenges and barriers school children in Athens face and how best to help them in the classroom, he said.
This article has been updated to the correct Jared Bybee's district.