Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Oconee County School Board Turns Down Request By Board Of Commissioners For Joint Public Meetings

***Wants Training Session Instead***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday turned down a proposal from the Board of Commissioners that the two bodies meet with the public in three Town Hall sessions stretching from this month through January of 2021.

Instead, the Board of Education accepted Chair Tom Odom’s proposal that he approach the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia about conducting a training program for the members of the two Boards.

Odom said once the Carl Vinson Institute agreed to conduct the training program he would approach Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell and ask him to get the Board of Commissioners to join the session.

Neither Odom not any other member of the Board of Education made any reference to how the public might be involved in a session with the Carl Vinson Institute, a government training unit of the University of Georgia, though the state’s open meeting law would seem to require that.

In other action on Monday, the Board of Education discussed a joint use agreement between the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners that allows the county and the school system to begin charging the other for use of recreational facilities.

The Board of Commissioners, at its meeting on Tuesday night, approved the three-year agreement, which should be back before the Board of Education for action at its regular meeting on Monday.

The Board of Commissioners said the school system will continue to have access to county recreational facilities without paying a fee, while the Board of Education plans to roll in fees starting with the second year of the contract.

Odom’s Proposal

Odom made his comments at the beginning of the work session on Monday just after Superintendent Jason Branch gave his report on school activities during the closing of facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screen Shot 5/4/2020
Odom Making Comments 

Board members were remotely connected for the virtual meeting.

At the April 20 meeting of the Board of Education, Board of Commissioners Chair Daniell registered as a citizen speaker and asked the Board to accept his invitation to appear in Joint Town Hall meetings with the Board of Commissioners on May 28 and Aug. 27 of this year and on Jan. 28, 2021.

Daniell was allowed to speak only six minutes, but Board of Education members, led by Board Member Tim Burgess, spent nearly 30 minutes following Daniell’s comments in a critique of the Board of Commissioners, but they did not address the invitation to hold joint Town Hall meetings.

Odom said on Monday that he did not feel joint meetings would be helpful and proposed instead that the two Boards turn to the Carl Vinson Institute for a joint training session.

“I don’t see where a joint Town Hall–this is my opinion–I don’t see that a joint Town Hall would serve any purpose at this present time,” Odom said.

“It would not address, in my opinion, relationship issues that prevent productive activity,” he added.

Instead, Odom said what is needed is “joint whole board training” conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute.

Each of the other four Board members in turn endorsed Odom’s idea.

Timing Of Meeting

Odom said the meeting should take place after the November elections “when new board members, newly elected board members and present board members, can meet and participate.”

Odom said the School Board should pay for the session.

Odom is running for reelection as School Board Chair, but he has no opposition in the rescheduled June 9 Republican Primary. No Democrat filed to run against him in the Nov. 3 election.

Burgess is seeking reelection to Post 4 on the School Board and has no opposition in the Republican Primary. Laura Williams Ormes has no opposition in the Democratic Primary for Post 4 and will be on the ballot with Burgess in November.

Board Member Wayne Bagley is not seeking reelection, and Michael Ransom and Adam Spence are seeking the Republican nomination for the Post 5 position. Joan E. Parker has no opposition for the Democratic nomination for Post 5.

John Daniell has opposition in the Republican Primary for Chair from Carol Bennett and Johnny Pritchett. Eric Gisler has no opposition in the Democratic Primary for that slot.

Both Commissioner Mark Thomas and Commissioner Mark Saxon have Republican opposition in the June 9 primary from John Laster and Maria Caudill respectively.

In addition, the open seat, Post 3, created by the death of William “Bubber” Wilkes, will be on the ballot in November.

Philip Ashford and Amry Harden have announced plans to run for that spot in a nonprimaried special election.

Odom On Missions

Odom said on Monday that as president of the Georgia School Board Association two years ago he spent a lot of time at meetings “asking about other systems and their relations with their commissions and other government entities.

“The answer I got was that many of them–almost all of them–struggled with it for a variety of reasons,” Odom said.

“The county government has its mission,” Odom said. “And I certainly would endorse their mission.

“But, by and large, the Board of Education, and the School System, has its mission, which is to serve students,” Odom continued. “But these are two totally different missions. And that has to be understood when we talk about cooperation.”

Citizens fund separately the school system and county government and elect boards to oversee each.

In the current fiscal year budget for Oconee Schools, 55 percent of its revenue comes from taxes collected by the state and 45 percent comes from local sources, almost all of it property taxes collected by the county government but designated separately for the schools.

The bulk of local property tax money, in fact, goes to schools. The millage rate is 16.5 for schools and 8.7 for funding of county government.

In addition, school system relies on a 1 percent Education Local Option Sales Tax for funding of capital projects, such as the Dove Creek Elementary School.

The county relies on both property taxes and local sales taxes for its operations.

Time Line Of Conflict

Odom said the two Boards have been at odds since the spring of 2018 when the county halted work on the entrance to the new Dove Creek Elementary School after discovering a high pressure gas line that ran along the right of way in front of the school property.

Daniell 5/5/2020

I heard county officials complain a year earlier when the Board of Education announced that it had purchased the site for the Dove Creek Elementary School on Hog Mountain Road in the far west of the county without, those officials said, consulting with the county.

The county is obligated to provide road and other infrastructure for the site, which is nearly on the Barrow County line. The county has had to draw on reserves to improve road and other infrastructure for the school.

The Board of Education, led by Burgess but with the support of all other members, has engaged in a serious of disputes in addition to disagreement over who was going to pay for the problems at the Dove Creek Elementary School site caused by the gas line.

The Board of Education blocked the county’s efforts to build roundabouts in front of Malcom Bridge Middle Schools, disputed the fee that the county charges Oconee County Schools for collection of property taxes, argued that it was not consulted properly about renovations at the Civic Center, and decided to started charging the county for use of school recreational facilities.

Joint Use Agreement

Dallas LeDuff, director of Student Services for Oconee County Schools, told the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday that two changes to the draft Joint Use Agreement document would allow either party to break the agreement at any time “with proper notice” and to “update their fees with proper notice.”

The specific language in the agreement states that the “agreement may be terminated by BOC upon at least 365 days prior written notice to BOE” and the “agreement may be terminated by BOE upon at least 365 days prior written notice to BOC.”

The agreement also states that the BOC and the BOE “reserves the right to amend their fees each year thereafter the execution of this agreement.”

The agreement states that the school system would not charge the county for use of its facilities in the first year of the agreement, would charge 50 percent of the originally proposed fee in the second year, and would charge 60 percent of the fee school in the third year.

The Fee Schedule attached to the agreement and approved by the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night states that the county does not plan to charge the schools for use of county facilities.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

Daniell has said that the fee increases will have to be passed along to participants in county athletic programs that use school facilities when those fees are put into effect.


The first video below is my recording of the YouTube broadcast meeting of the Board of Education on May 4. I trimmed off the technical arrangements at the beginning and end of the session.

Odom begins his comments at 7:20 in the video.

LeDuff begins his comments about the Joint Use Agreement at 32:17.

The second video is of the very short meeting of the Board of Commissioners on May 5.

The Board of Commissioners met, spatially separated, and Sarah Bell was one of two citizens allowed to attend.

Bell recorded the second video.

The discussion of the Joint Use Agreement is at 6:37 in the second video.

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