Oconee County Schools has agreed to make a slight change in the number of parking spaces in front of its planned Instructional Support Center on North Main Street in downtown Watkinsville.
It also has proposed to increases the amount of green space in front of the building.
Oconee County Schools has refused to eliminate parking in front of the building, however, and will ask the Watkinsville City Council on Wednesday night to grant it a variance to the city zoning code to allow for that parking.
At the Board of Education meeting earlier this month, Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities for Oconee County Schools, told the Board the school system had submitted a variance request to City of Watkinsville regarding the Instructional Support Center.
He did not provide any details, and Board members did not ask any questions.
Ricketson said he expects to have the permits needed from the city so that he can advertise for proposals for the estimated $13 million building early in 2023.
Ordinance At Issue
The Watkinsville zoning ordinance in effect for the 6.7 acres fronting on North Main Street states that parking “shall be to the rear of the principal building.”
|New Rendition Of Instructional Support Center|
When Dallas LeDuff, Associate Superintendent of Oconee County Schools, brought the plans for the new Instructional Support Center before Council for preliminary discussion back in October, three Council members objected to the parking plan.
Council Member Brett Thomas was particularly outspoken, saying he counted 27 parking spaces in front of the building and he wanted that reduced. He said he could accept about 13 spaces.
In the Narrative for the requested variance, Oconee County Schools says it is willing to reduce the number of parking spaces to 23 and add additional green space between the building and the parking area.
It also said it will increase the green space between the front parking area and Main Street.
“OCS has also added professionally landscaped hedges, trees, and other plantings to screen the parking lot from the adjoining North Main Street and is open to discussion on what other types of screening or landscaping would be suitable to enhance the character of Watkinsville,” the narrative states.
Justification For Request
“The Instructional Support Center (ISC) is being designed to meet the current demands of our award-winning school system and wonderful community while preparing for the reality of future growth and expansion,” the Narrative states.
The building will contain 36,060 square feet of finished space with an additional 7,300 square feet of unfinished space for future growth, according to the Narrative.
Oconee County Schools estimates that 70 staff members will be located in the new Instructional Support Center.
The new building “will serve as a wonderful representation of our world-class school system while providing a signature structure for decades to come for visitors and citizens of this area,” the Narrative states.
“The design was specifically implemented to promote ease of access and safety for all stakeholders in Oconee County,” the school system states.
“In order to better serve the public,” the Narrative continues, “it is essential that citizens can easily navigate the property and be greeted at the front door and checked in immediately and safely upon arrival.”
Discussion of the variance request is the eighth item on the Watkinsville Mayor and Council agenda for Wednesday. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and is live streamed.
Ricketson included his comments on the Instructional Support Center as part of his construction update to the Board at its Dec. 5 meeting.
Ricketson said Oconee County School had submitted the variance request on Nov. 4 and “It's currently under review.”
“We've been placed on the agenda to present the request on the Dec. 21 City Council meeting,” he added.
“The design team has worked diligently to get the construction documents completed so that we will be positioned to advertise the project for proposals in early 2023,” Ricketson said.
Ricketson also told the Board that construction work on the new Dove Creek Middle School is progressing.
“Much of the side work is complete,” he said, “so we're not impacted by the weather as much as we have been in months past.” The school is scheduled to open next school year.
Ricketson said preliminary work continues on Oconee County Primary, Oconee County Elementary, and Oconee County High modifications.
Design work is underway for the classroom expansion at Malcom Bridge Elementary School, Ricketson said, “and we're working to advertise” for bids in early 2023.
Just less than 14 minutes of a 55-minute-long meeting on Monday was devoted to a tribute to Board Member Wayne Bagley.
|New Site Plan Instructional Support Center|
Bagley, who rejoined the Board when Tom Odom resigned citing health reasons in August of 2021, is stepping down at the end of the month. (Ryan Hammock was elected in November to replace him.)
Superintendent Jason Branch began the tribute with an eight-minute recitation of accomplishments of Oconee County Schools since Bagley came back to the Board in September of 2021.
Branch was followed by tributes from Board Chair Kim Argo as well as Board Members Tim Burgess, Amy Parrish, and Michael Ransom.
Branch gave Bagley an award recognizing his service.
Ryan White, Chief Technology Officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board it was the recommendation of Branch that the Board approve a bid by Virtucom for $1,562,588 for 3,651 HP G9 Chromebooks and 148 HP X360 touchscreen Chromebooks.
“These Chromebooks are part of the first replacement cycle for that first batch of Chromebooks that we bought in 2018,” White said.
White also said Branch is recommending that the Board approve a separate bid by Virtucom of $106,657 for 3,816 student Chromebook warranties.
Finally, White said, the Board of Education is being asked to approve a Bytespeed bid of $156,480 for 192 desktop computers.
The Board will vote at its Jan. 12, 2023, meeting on these recommendations, with funding coming from ELOST and General Fund revenue.
The Board voted at the Dec. 5 meeting to spend $159,513 for a new student information system offered by Infinite Campus, $325,624 for licensing for a new network management system, and $568,415 for classroom audio and intercom systems.
Brook Whitmire, Chief Human Resources Officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board that with redistricting for the new Dove Creek Middle School complete “We are now prepared to turn our attention to the staffing portion.”
“I'll tell you up front, Board Members, this is a long process,” Whitmire said. “It's something that is going to take some time.”
“There is a lot that we don't know and won't know for some period of time as we work through staffing allocations, school choice for students and what not,” he said.
“We know there are going to be some staffing changes,” he continued, “and so the first piece of that as we've done before in other redistricting processes, the first piece of that, is going to be to go to faculty and staff at Malcom Bridge Middle School, give them an opportunity to state whether or not they would like to volunteer to be reassigned to go to Dove Creek Middle School.”
“That process will begin soon,” he said.
“By Board policy, every year every employee in Oconee County schools has the opportunity to request a voluntary transfer to another location in the same position,” Whitmire said.
“That process always takes place right at the end of January, the first of February,” he said. Staffing allocations are made in March, he added.
Dove Creek Middle School is projected to have only 478 students when it opens, while Malcom Bridge Middle School will have 611, and Oconee County Middle School will have 844. All three schools have a capacity of 1,000 students.
Liz Harlow, Chief Financial Officer for the school system, gave her usual seven financial reports at the Dec. 5 meeting.
“Revenue and expenditures are where we would expect at this time of the year,” she told the Board.
The Cash Balance Report shows $61.0 million in the General Fund Account on Nov. 30, up from $28.5 million on Oct. 31.
The Nov. 30 Budget Report shows $35.1 million collected in ad valorem taxes, or 85 percent of the anticipated revenue from that tax.
On Oct. 31, less than a percent of the ad valorem taxes had been collected.
Harlow reported that Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) collections for October of 2022 were up 19.7 percent from October of 2021.
Over the last 14 months, collections are averaging 12.8 percent over that same month the previous year.
Total ELOST collections are now $41.9 million, or $2 million more than was projected from the tax.
Collections the last three months have all been more than $900,000, and two more months of revenue will be added before the tax expires at the end of the year. A new ELOST begins on Jan. 1.
At the end of the regular meeting, the Board went into executive session to review personnel recommendations from Branch.
|Original Site Plan Instructional Support Center|
When it came back into open session, the Board approved the separation of Chief Human Resources Officer Whitmire effective April 28, the appointment of Kristin Harrison as Malcom Bridge Middle School Principal, effective June 1, and the hiring of Steven Colquitt as Director of Communications, effective Jan. 2.
Whitmire is now the fourth of six members of Branch’s cabinet to step down since June of 2021.
Colquitt, Senior Associate Sports Communications Director at the University of Georgia, replaces Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, who left Oconee County Schools in September.
On Oct. 3, the Board approved the transfer of Michael Eddy as principal at Malcom Bridge Middle School to the new principal at Dove Creek Middle School.
Eddy, who has been principal at Malcom Bridge Middle School since 2019, will remain in that position until June 1.
Harrison has served the last five years as assistant principal at Oconee County Middle School.
Associate Superintendent LeDuff sent out a news release on Dec. 6, the day after the Board approved the appointment of Harrison as the incoming principal at Malcom Bridge Middle School.
“Kristin Harrison is a proven leader in Oconee County Schools, and I look forward to the leadership she will provide Malcom Bridge Middle School for years to come,” Branch is quoted as saying. “Ms. Harrison has served our community with exceptional skill, grace, and care for students and staff in every endeavor, and we are excited to welcome her to this next opportunity.”
I have asked LeDuff to restore my name to the list of persons who receive news releases from Oconee County Schools. Jimenez removed my name last year saying I asked too many questions and was not a media organization. (I only claim to be a citizen of the county.)
LeDuff has refused to add me to the list.
The list is made up of 19 email addresses, including one for someone who hasn’t worked at flagpole in many years and another for Oconee Patch, which is no longer edited in Georgia.
Three of the addresses are at Online Athens, including two people who no longer work at the Athens Banner Herald.
Three are different email addresses for the same editor at The Oconee Enterprise.
Two of those on the list forwarded to me the news release LeDuff sent out on Dec. 6 regarding Harrison’s appointment, knowing OCS has eliminated me from its media list.
The video below of the Dec. 5 Board of Education meeting is from the YouTube channel of Oconee County Schools.
Branch started his tribute to Bagley at 14:34 in the video.
White made his report at 34:11 in the video.
Whitmire began his report at 39:10.
Harlow came to the podium at 41:46.
Ricketson spoke to the Board beginning at 46:48 in the video.
No citizen took advantage of the opportunity to address the Board at the Dec. 5 meeting.