2010-11-04 / Front Page

State officials listen to comments from citizens

A standing-room-only crowd made its concerns known to state officials at a called meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Education held Thursday, October 28. Those representing the Georgia Department of Education at the meeting included (l-r) Brad Bryant, state superintendent of schools; Lynn Jackson, associate superintendent of business operations; and Scott Austensen, deputy superintendent of finance and business operations. A standing-room-only crowd made its concerns known to state officials at a called meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Education held Thursday, October 28. Those representing the Georgia Department of Education at the meeting included (l-r) Brad Bryant, state superintendent of schools; Lynn Jackson, associate superintendent of business operations; and Scott Austensen, deputy superintendent of finance and business operations. State officials listened to comments and concerns voiced by local residents at a called meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Education held Thursday, October 28.

Heading up the meeting was State Representative Lee Anderson, who said, “My goal is to make this a winwin situation.”

He then introduced State Senator Bill Jackson to the audience.

Others present at the standingroom only meeting were Georgia Superintendent of Schools Brad Bryant; Lynn Jackson, associate superintendent of business operations for the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE); Scott Austensen, deputy superintendent of finance and business operations for the GADOE; Jennifer Hackemeyer, the GADOE’s chief legal council; and Rob Leverett, attorney for the local board of education.

At the outset of the meeting, Dr. Robert Williams, board chairman, recognized Lincoln County School Superintendent Randall Edmunds as the winner of the Bill Barr Leadership Award.

Edmunds was nominated for the honor by Gene Sullivan, director of the CSRA Regional Education Service Agency (RESA).

Quoting from Sullivan’s application, Dr. Williams said, “The new LCHS facility counts as one of Superintendent Edmunds’ greatest achievements. His driving standard was to ‘do it right and to do it well.’ The result is a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that is the crown jewel of Lincoln County and will comfortably serve Lincoln County citizens and students for many years to come.”

The chairman went on to note that the superintendent will receive a $1,000 scholarship, which he will present to a member or members of the LCHS Class of 2011.

Addressing Edmunds, Dr. Williams said, “Thank you for your continued support, guidance, and leadership. Congratulations on winning this prestigious award.”

Dr. Edmunds, who has served as the superintendent of Lincoln County Schools for 30 years, was rewarded with a standing ovation from those present.

In response, the superintendent said he was surprised when he received the award, and he was surprised today.

“I am fortunate to work here as school superintendent and have board members, who wanted the best for students and made it happen. We have some good teachers and administrators as well. Thank you for the recognition.”

The first individual to speak from the audience was Larry Campbell, head football coach and athletic director at LCHS.

In his comments, he explained that three people met with then State School Superintendent Kathy Cox and were told by her that “it was obvious that Lincoln County was misled by the state.”

The December 2006 edition of The Lincoln Journal reported that a facilities consultant from the state told the board it could apply for funding for a middle school/high school in order to get the maximum in state monies. Then, after it was built, the board could decide what grades to house there.

The new facility is currently serving as a high school.

However, in April of this year, the board was informed that since the system’s application for funding for the new school was made for grades 6-12, it must house those grades there in order not to lose state capital outlay money.

The options as presented by the state are as follows:

(1) If the grade configuration remains like it is, the system will be responsible for paying the state around $3.7 million.

(2) The system can house grades 6-8 at the current middle school campus, utilizing the middle school wings, the media center, the gymnasium, the weight room, and other facilities already identified as “middle school.”

This option would cost the system an estimated $2.1 million.

(3) If the local board were to house grades 6-12 in the new facility, the state would require no payback.

Coach Campbell continued by pointing out some of the drawbacks of combining LCMS and LCHS. “If we join the two schools, the media center will lose some computers. Also, middle school students will lose a state-of-the-art music room, a gymnasium, locker rooms, and a weight room.”

In closing, he said, “Putting sixthgrade kids with 18 and 19 year olds is unheard of from where I sit, at no more cost than we will have to pay.”

Marcene Powell, a former chairman of the board of education, spoke next.

“This board is comprised of good, honest people; they did not defraud the citizens of Lincoln County. They did what was in the best interest of the students.

“I venture to say there are very few systems where grades 6 through 12 attend the same school. My own life-long goal was to divide the schools – we hadn’t been able to do this because there was no money.

“The school board acted in good faith. If there was any misrepresentation, it belongs to the state board of education.

“The kids are the losers – let’s give them the benefit of allowing them to stay at a campus more conducive to learning. We are a poor county, and we need all of the help we can get from the state department.”

Following Powell was Nancy Hohlwein, who indicated that as a former student, it was very intimidating to be in the same vicinity as a 12th-grader.

“The best investment of tax money is in our students; our students are our future. Having three campuses will make Lincoln County even better than it already is. I don’t understand why this is an issue because our children are our best investment. The key is our kids.”

The next speaker from the floor was Lynn Thackston, who said he feels good about the new school. “It’s a nice environment.

“What I object to is senior citizens on a fixed income having to face a constant increase in school taxes. The board of commissioners made the necessary cuts and held taxes down. As for the school, it appears as if the system is abiding by the ‘tax and spend’ philosophy.”

This year, the board voted to raise school bond taxes from .75 mills to 1.385, an increase of .635 mills to meet bond interest and principle payments as required by the amortization schedule on the bonds for the new high school. Current SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) collections, along with monies from the General Fund’s Fund Balance, are not sufficient to meet these obligations.

In other comments from the audience, Ernie Doss said, “I voted to build the high school, and I knew what I was voting for. It was clear what the board of education was trying to do.

“We were told this was the way to build a high school. There was nothing underhanded.”

Doss was followed by Lamar LeRoy, who served as a member of the board of education for 12 years.

Addressing his remarks to the GADOE officials, LeRoy said, “One of our candidates announced that he will restore the county’s relationship with the state. Is our relationship in jeopardy?”

According to State School Superintendent Bryant, “The term ‘fraud’ has never been used at the state level. I don’t believe there is any negative relationship between Lincoln County and the state board of education.”

The next citizen to speak was J.B. Matthews, who indicated that he spent 42 years in education and is very proeducation.

“The anticipated requirement that we pay money back to the state is based upon a false Local Facilities Plan and a contract signed and submitted to the state by the Lincoln County Board of Education.

“I believe that a similar situation exists with the local taxpayer-supported bonds, except there was not an explicit contract. The bond referendum stated that a new middle and/ or high school would be built.

“The board of education apparently broke its contract with the state and took money from the taxpayers sufficient for the ‘and’ plan and used it all to build the ‘or’ plan.

“The results are that we have a grand but over-built new high school and a middle school housed in an old facility needing to be rebuilt. This has spoiled the relationship between the board and the state department of education and many local taxpayers as well.”

“Four years ago we voted to build a middle school/high school,” stated Al Bean. “Shortly afterwards, the board voted 3 to 2 to build a school to house grades 6 through 12. To me, the majority rules.

“I left Gwinnett County where we had tax breaks,” he continued. “The way taxes are now, a lot of senior citizens can’t keep up.

“I suggested we hold off on building the school for three or four years until the economy improved. Instead, we built a high school and still maintain a middle school, which will cost $5 million a year. I don’t support that.”

Following Bean was Ann Scott.

“I’m a parent, and I trust the administrators, board members, and teachers. My children received a wonderful education here.

“Because of bullying, we need to keep the schools separate, which will put us ahead of the game.”

The next individual to address the board and state officials was Nancy Blount, Lincoln County Family Connection director.

Blount noted that after years of working with Lincoln County children, she has gained many insights into the lives of the children and families in the community.

“With the issues these children face on a daily basis, putting the schools together is not the answer. It is time to stop thinking about the money and think about the betterment of our children.”

In her remarks, Dr. Becky Barden, LCHS principal, said she agreed with Coach Campbell. “When the schools were combined, it was difficult having one gym, with six teams trying to practice.”

She went on to say, “I was in on the planning. I wanted to design a school for the future – I wanted LCMS and LCHS to have their own identities. We all know that having sixth-graders across the hall from twelfth-graders is not good.

“The state consultant said we could get more money if we built a middle school/high school. Then, the board could decide who to put there.

We asked numerous times if it was ethical and right. If we’re guilty of anything, it’s trusting the state representative.

“We built the school for growth,” the principal continued. “No one could foresee the recession. All we can do now is move forward and do what is best for the citizens of Lincoln County.”

Also speaking from the floor was Larry Pinson, who asked the state representatives how much the system will have to pay to keep the schools separated.

Lynn Jackson responded, “It is dependent upon the amount of the old facility used, which is a decision the local board will have to make. Once you have a new Local Facilities Plan, we can calculate the cost.”

Following Pinson was Leroy Smith.

“It’s sad we are unfairly pitted against each other. We have two good things – our children, who are the most important thing, and issues related to money.

“However, the lion’s share of the problem rests on the people who misled us.”

Smith said, “We need a plan, which meets the needs of our children and does not include step increases in taxes.”

Next, Richard Brown took the floor.

“As a business owner, the school system is our biggest customer. We rely on it for our livelihood. The more people we can bring in, the more money we can bring in.”

He stated that he is in favor of keeping the schools separated. “Twentysix cents a day (on the high side) is a low price to pay for the education of our children in Lincoln County.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Representative Anderson said, “Senator Jackson and I want to come up with a plan where the children of Lincoln County can get the best education possible and the taxpayers will not have to face tax increases. We all have faith that the state and the local board of education will work together.

“We want Lincoln County to go forward.”

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