Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dispute Between Oconee County Board Of Education And Board Of Commissioners Heats Up

***Monday Meeting Devoted To Conflicts***

The ongoing dispute between the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners took a dramatic turn on Monday with the remotely connected, but live streamed, meeting of the Board of Education.

After allowing Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell to speak for six minutes as a registered outside speaker, the School Board, led by Board Member Tim Burgess, spent 29 minutes responding critically.

Daniell said he wanted to address three issues with the Board: joint use of sports facilities, renovation of the Civic Center, and future joint Town Hall meetings.

Burgess spoke for more than six minutes about the Civic Center, saying the county had not kept the Board of Education adequately informed as it made plans for remodeling the facility, which the county manages under an Intergovernmental Agreement with the Board of Education.

Burgess then switched to construction on Malcom Bridge Road, which Daniell had not mentioned but which has been a subject of disagreement between the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education for more than a year.

Burgess dominated the more than 20 minute discussion that followed, but Board Members Wayne Bagley, Amy Parrish and Kim Argo joined in, in that order, thanking Burgess for making his comments.

Responsibility For Roads

Burgess and the other School Board members acknowledged that the maintenance of roads is a county responsibility, but they questioned the priority the county had assigned the Malcom Bridge Road projects given other needs of the county.

Burgess Making Comments

Burgess and Bagley accused Daniell of violating an agreement they had reached not to proceed with changes to the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School until 2021 and said that Commissioner Mark Thomas–whom they would not name–agreed with them that an agreement had been violated.

Thomas has confirmed that he is the commissioner, who along with Daniell, who met several times with Burgess and Bagley on the road project.

Burgess and Bagley said that 2021 had been selected because the county would elect a new Sheriff in November who could decide if the present assignment of a deputy to the interchange should continue or should be eliminated for safety reasons, as the Board of Commissioners desires.

Once Daniell had finished his comments, he was told to “please exit from the call” and was not given a chance to respond to any of the comments of the Board of Education members.

Daniell’s request for agreement to hold three joint Town Hall Meetings was not addressed, nor was his request for further discussion of the Board of Education’s announced plans to begin charging the county for use of school athletic facilities.

Do Communicate

Burgess, Bagley and Parrish all said that the School Board members and members of the Board of Commission do meet and communicate with each other, but they said the conversations have not resulted in agreement.

During the controversy over the Malcom Bridge school entrances, however, these meetings were never mentioned directly in Board of Education meetings.

Burgess in particular frequently asked Brock Toole, school system chief operating officer, to report publicly on what he was learning about the projects as if what he said was news to the Board.

“Yea, I’d just like to confirm that we do meet with the Board of Commissioners when we have common interests that are affected by circumstances or proposed actions,” Bagley said.

“And with that being said, each group will have differing priorities, and it probably couldn’t be more evident than in this particular scenario,” Bagley said.

Different Priorities

Bagley said “we’ve had no complaints that I’m aware of about the traffic management at Malcom Bridge Road.”

Branch Responding To Burgess

“Now, I can greatly appreciate the concern for a deputy’s safety while controlling the traffic at the school entrances,” Bagley said. “Lord knows, we don’t want anybody to get hurt while doing their job.

“But I can understand where that would be one of the Board of Commissioner’s priorities,” Bagley said. “But we have a different priority.

“Our priority as a Board of Education is the safety of the children,” Bagley continued.

“And it must be our priority, and always has been a determining factor when we make decisions that affect our children, the parents that take them back and forth to school, the buses that bring them back and forth to school and the staff that help manage that day in and day out,” he said.

The Sheriff makes decisions about staffing and assignments, and Superintendent Jason Branch told Burgess that he meets with the Sheriff each year and Sheriff Scott Berry has never objected to the current arrangement of having deputies at the school entrances to direct traffic.

The Board of Commissioners, who pay expenses of the Sheriff’s Office and the salaries and benefits of the Sheriff’s staff, point out that one deputy has been killed in front of the school complex at Butler’s Crossing and say that there have been many near misses in a Town Hall Meeting last week.

Question Priorities

Burgess said the Board of Education had not asked for the changes to Malcom Bridge Road.

Instead, they surfaced when a developer of a shopping center across from the schools began making plans to use land already zoned for commercial development, he said.

“I guess when I back up and look at this, with the level of scarce resources that we’re all dealing with,” Burgess said, “and the likelihood that those resources are going to get even more scarce over the next year as we all deal with the rebuilding of our economy, you would think that scarce resources would be put towards the highest priority.”

“If you asked every citizen in this county, ‘What do you believe are the most serious traffic situations that need immediate addressing across the entire county,’” Burgess said. “I have to question whether or not this change in front of the school over there would be in anybody’s top five.”

Board Member Argo said “In the 11 and a half years I’ve been on the School Board, I have never had a call from a single parent saying that traffic in front of any school was horrible and we need to do something about it.”

“I question why this is their priority,” she added.

Civic Center

Burgess said the county had issued its request for proposals for renovation of the Civic Center on Jan. 10 and had a prebid meeting on Feb. 4.

“To the best of my knowledge,” Burgess said. “The first communication that we got specifically about that project was when the County finance director emailed Saranna about, sort of alerting her to the cost that might be coming down the road for the air conditioning component of that project.”

That was in late March, Burgess said. Wes Geddings is the county finance director, and Saranna Charping is the school system chief financial officer.

“My point, is that it’s pretty clear, that for a couple of months at least or more, the county was mindful of, discussing and preparing for some major modifications and ultimately expenses at the Civic Center.

“I don’t have any issue with a cost associated with the air conditioning for the Civic Center,” Burgess said.

“I think what I want to say to all of you guys is what appears to me though that there was a lack of cooperation, coordination early on with this project either with our staff or even members of the Board for a facility that we all share a joint responsibility for.”

Burgess raised concerns about the sharing of the costs of the replacement of the HVAC unit at the Civic Center, located at 2661 Hog Mountain Road, at the April 13 School Board work session.

Daniell’s Comments

In announcing Daniells to the School Board, Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, said there would be no opportunity for people in the audience to speak other than the five minutes allocated for the one person who registered in advance.

Clock Counter For Daniell

Daniell turned first to the discussion of a new joint use agreement between the Board of Education and the county for sports facilities. The Board in March tabled action on the agreement.

Daniell said Facilitron, which had done a study of use of school facilities for the school system, had made a number of mistakes in its calculations of county use of facilities and asked that these be corrected.

“Facilitron reports the BOC as using 2,836 hours of school facilities at the same time reporting only 2,000 hours of total usage available,” Daniell said. “Our records show the actual hours used for that time period is 1,747.”

Daniell told the Board that “Finance Department level phone conversations occurred on the HVAC project” at the Civic Center prior to the posting of the request for proposals for the Civic Center project in January of this year.

Daniell was given an extra minute to finish his comments, and he said the Board of Commissioners had proposed three dates for joint Town Hall Meetings with the Board of Education, May 28, 2020, Aug. 27, 2020, and Jan. 28, 2021.

Daniell asked the Board to “acknowledge the Joint Town Hall meeting dates and confirm participation.”

Other School Board Action

Prior to Daniell’s comments and the responses by Burgess and the other School Board members at the meeting on Monday, Charping gave her financial report.

Charping reported that collections from the Education Local Option Sales Tax have been down from the previous year.

“We are concerned about these collections in light of the public health emergency,” she said. “And we will continue to watch these collections very closely.”

The March disbursements from the Georgia Department of Revenue were for collections in February, so the April figures will be more informative.

The Department of Revenue site lists $598,309 as the March 31 Oconee County ELOST distribution for this year, which actually is up from the $534,871 of a year ago, but January, representing December sales, was $765,479 compared with $810,339 for January of last year.


The video of the Board of Education meeting of April 20 is below.

The embed code is taken from the Board of Education site on YouTube.

Daniell begins speaking about 9 minutes into the video.


Unknown said...

I seems that John Daniell is making an effort to communicate with the School Board. He goes to their meetings and asks to speak. They sit there and then make him leave, and start with their criticisms. He is gone so he cannot respond. This is NOT communication. They don't want to participate in Town Halls apparently where again communication would be fostered. We really need more open mindedness. This situation is very bad for county residents (taxpayers).

Lee Becker said...

Unknown and all others,

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