Just as President Trump suspended the salaries of federal employees to get Congress to fund his border wall, so Clarke County School Superintendent Demond Means will hold hostage the state-mandated raises for public school teachers unless the Board of Education passes Means’ 2019-2020 budget.
If the board doesn’t pass Means’ budget, Chief Financial Officer Larry Hammel said at a work session last week that he’ll have no choice but to pay bills with month-to-month budget approvals. Hammel said he would use the 2018-2019 budget as a pay guide, since it would be the only budget adopted by the school board. And that budget doesn’t include $3,000 for each teacher from the state.
The board is balking at passing Means’ budget because it would reduce by 75 percent the amount of grant money available to Local School Governance Teams, further eroding the charter system. LSGTs apply for grants after deciding how to spend the money. In 2017-2018, $302,072 in grants was distributed.
Means noted that some LSGTs didn’t take advantage of the possible grant money, while others did. In 2017-2018, LSGTs not receiving innovation grants included Alps Road Elementary, Barnett Shoals Elementary, Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School, Coile Middle School and Hilsman Middle School.
Records show that in 2017-2018, innovation grants paid for mindfulness training and a sensory room. They paid for a Playworks coach, class game time and after-school co-ed sports leagues. Grant money helped a school focus on numeracy and literacy, and facilitated student visits to local businesses and industries. It created murals and community gardens, and set up an eight-week-long summer program focused on literacy that included a mobile library. Grant money helped create a 12-day summer literacy and school readiness camp for K-2 students. An innovation grant focused on student literacy by teaching parents and caregivers how to help develop children’s early interest in books and reading by using singing, reading, writing and playing. A grant bought digital tools for literacy and hired a specialist to help students struggling with school engagement and success. It created a day-long program in which students learned real-world skills, such as interviewing, bank accounts, taxes and good financial habits. A grant also funded a college fair.
The budget for the coming year is $165 million, 8.4 percent higher than last year’s budget. The board and the superintendent are quarreling over 0.3 percent of the proposed 2019-2020 budget.
Means would spend $300,000 currently budgeted for LSGT grants to hire much-needed social workers, psychologists and counselors for the public schools. Means said he believes that having 21 schools vie for $150,000 in grant money will produce better, more innovative ideas.
Means asked, “What is the role of the central office?” The answer to that question will determine how the budget issue is resolved.
When asked about the $100,000 budgeted for an assistant police chief, Means had Hammel explain that $60,000 would cover salary and the remaining $40,000 would cover benefits. Means said he wants to have a safety campus team in place trained to deal with young people and families instead of issuing citations, as Athens-Clarke County police officers have done.
In other business, the board approved allowing Means to perform due diligence on property at Prince Avenue and Chase Street. It isn’t clear what purpose the building and parking lots would serve, but Means said the current tenant, Georgia Power, could complete its lease, which ends in 2025. When John Knox asked if board members could tour the property, Means said that wouldn’t be appropriate, and they could see it after purchase.
When asked about why the district wants to buy the building, communications director Mary Walsh Wickwire said via email:
Per the district’s future facility use report, there are a myriad of facility needs the Clarke County School District has right now as it pertains to the direct service to our students and community.
The Clarke County School District must first complete its due diligence in examining the property. Once the due diligence period is completed, only then can the district determine the potential use of the facility.
The property is certainly located in a central area of the community and near one of our schools, making it a favorable addition to the district’s facility portfolio.
At a special called meeting before the work session, the board approved Natosha D. Harris as principal of Alps Road Elementary School. She comes to Athens from Milwaukee, where Means previously worked. She is a Facebook friend of Means’ wife. Knox voted against her appointment.
With the resignation of former board President Jared Bybee, the board will discuss the vacancy in District 4 at the June 13 meeting. Former member Vernon Payne resigned in the spring because of health issues. The board named Frances Berry to represent District 2.
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