By Eileen Steinhauer
Student achievement was the highlight of last week’s Board of Education meeting, but it was much less positive with other news including resignations in two top posts and higher-than-expected costs threatening to swamp summer renovation projects.
After only receiving one bid each for the Tate and Jasper Elementary School renovations, the future of these projects, originally slated for the upcoming summer, is now in question.
At last Thursday’s meeting, it was noted that the Charles Black Construction Company was the only business to bid on the Tate and JES renovations.
The original architect’s cost projections estimated the JES renovation at approximately $1,100,000 and the Tate renovation at approximately $2,750,000. State funding for both projects would provide a total of $679,000. In previous BOE meetings, it has been stated that SPLOST funds will be used to cover the costs of these projects.
The original bids from Charles Black Construction were $3,986,000 for Tate and $1,770,000 for Jasper. Revised bids for the project were $3,640,000 for Tate and $1,570,812 for Jasper; however, these revised bids may be contingent upon the company doing both projects according to Operations Director Rick Little.
With bids approximately $1.5 million over estimated costs, discussion during the BOE meeting focused on postponing one or both projects until a later date.
According to Little, 15-20 contractors were asked to submit bids for the projects. With only one bid submitted, Little suggested there may be several reasons for the lack of competition. Contractors may not have bid on the projects because they already have enough work for the summer; it is difficult to get construction materials to the sites; and the renovations have strict time constraints on them.
The BOE will make decisions regarding both projects as soon as possible. Although not decided, it appears likely that the Tate renovation will be pushed back until at least the spring of 2015.
The school board will hold a called meeting on Friday to discuss the construction projects. The BOE has requested more information from Charles Black and will hear more information regarding the JES renovation this week. The original projected cost of the JES project was $1,100,000 and the current bid is $1,570,812.
Two other summer renovations (at both middle schools) are still scheduled to begin. They are being handled by Charles Black.
• On March 13, the Pickens County Board of Education voted to recommend Scott Heaton as the director of Technology. Heaton began on April 1 and resigned on April 9.
Faculty and staff throughout the district expressed shock at the sudden resignation, noting that Heaton had scheduled and participated in various meetings in the days he worked for the district.
Superintendent Lula Mae Perry said in a statement through the board attorney that she could not discuss the resignation at this point. The schools would only note he had resigned and they weren’t prepared to give a reason.
• In other personnel news, Emily Hamlin, Food Services director also resigned. She has accepted a job in another school district.
• The amount of money collected from Ad Valorem taxes fell behind in March and significantly behind in April. “I am very concerned at this point,” said Chief Financial Officer Amy Smith.
Monies collected from the Ad Valorem taxes are revenue for the school district that are deposited into the general fund. According to Smith, if the county does not receive the amount of revenue budgeted, priorities will have to be adjusted.
Smith did add that salaries and benefits for county employees are still in line for the year, and one reason for the drop in revenue collection may be due to the fact that FiFa notices (final tax notices) did not go out until later this year.
• The board voted to approve a class-size waiver. The class size waiver allows classes throughout Pickens County to go above the state recommended number of students in a class. Pickens County has applied for a class size waiver for the last five years.
The board voted to allow up to five more students in a classroom. Current state classroom recommendations allow 20 students in a kindergarten classroom with a teacher and paraprofessional, 21 students in a 1st-3rd grade classroom, 28 students in a 4th-8th grade classroom and 32 students in 9th-12th grade classrooms. The waiver allows classes in Pickens County to go above these numbers.
The Georgia State Board of Education has voted for several years to approve flexibility in classroom size to help local school districts meet financial constraints.
• The BOE voted to approve an application for one or more Pre-K classrooms in each of the local elementary schools. Should any Pre-K classes be approved, the addition of these classrooms will not affect the current Pre-K programs already approved within the county. After a thorough review of the county, Director of Federal Programs Sherry Martin found that less than 50 percent of the four- year-olds in the county are currently being served by a preschool program. This finding placed Pickens County in the highest need level according to Bright from the Start, the program that runs Pre-K.
“We are very excited about the possibility of having these children in our school district,” said Superintendent Dr. Lula Mae Perry. “Ideally, we would like to have two Pre-K classes per elementary school.”