Thursday, April 13, 2023

Oconee County Schools To Assume Costs Of Stationing Deputies At School Entrances

***Associate Superintendent Makes School Safety Report***

Oconee County Schools will no longer rely on the county to cover the costs of hiring the deputies who direct traffic in front of the system’s schools, but rather it will pay those expenses out of its own budget starting with the next fiscal year.

Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff made that announcement at the Board of Education meeting on Monday as part of his school safety update.

LeDuff said that the Sheriff’s Office deputies check the schools and make sure they are secure each evening and provide security at ball games and special events.

Oconee County Schools pays for those service, LeDuff said. In the past, it has not been willing to pay the costs of the deputies at school entrances.

“We believe that that should be assumed by the school system,” LeDuff said. He did not offer any explanation for the change in policy, but he said budget planning for next year would incorporate the change.

LeDuff also said the budget would reflect an increase in pay for the deputies from $25 per hour to $35 per hour.

The budget figures that Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell sent to Oconee County Schools shows that the cost to Oconee County Schools will be $168,949 for the deputies at the higher salary rate.

The county is paying $121,075 for the cost of the deputies at present, Daniell said. That figure does not include vehicle or other costs associated with the service.

Associate Superintendent Report

School safety is part of LeDuff’s portfolio, and Board Member Tim Burgess thanked him for that component of his report when he had finished.

Screen Shot LeDuff Before Board 4/10/2023

“It seems like a week doesn't go by when attention is not paid the safety in our school system,” Burgess said, “and hearing you give frequent updates on all the activities that you and your staff and all of our staff from the school system especially in coordination and cooperation with our Sheriff's Office should give everybody a good feeling that there's a lot of attention being paid to this.”

“We may not be thinking about it (school safety) every day,” Burgess said, “But there are a lot of people in the schools that think about it every day and are doing what it takes to make sure that our schools are safe in coordination with the Sheriff’s Office.”

Burgess then said that traffic control “in front of our schools has been an issue that we’ve talked about many, many times, and I think you’re right, that it’s more than time for us to take on that responsibility.”

LeDuff said that he is working on a Memorandum of Understanding between the school system and the Sheriff’s Office about traffic control at the school entrances.

“Once we get that drafted in the place we need it to be,” he said, “we would bring it to the board to execute and the Sheriff’s Office to execute as well.”

History Of Issue

Although Sheriff James Hale is a constitutional officer, meaning his office is stipulated in the state’s constitution, and he is elected directly by the citizens, he depends on the Board of Commissioners for the bulk of his budget.

The sheriff’s deputies and others in his office are county employees.

The budget Commission Chair Daniell submitted to LeDuff listed the hourly extra pay for the deputy, FICA, worker’s compensation, and retirement contribution, resulting in a deputy hourly rate of $44.70, rather than the $35 LeDuff mentioned.

Daniell estimated 3,780 hours of compensation at that rate to get to the cost estimate of $168,949.

Daniell has made it clear in the past that his goal is eventually to get all deputies out of the roadway at the entrances to all of the county’s schools for safety reasons.

Daniell and others cite the death of Deputy Sheriff David Gilstrap, who in 2008 was hit by a car while directing traffic in front of Oconee County Primary School. He later died from his injuries at a hospital.

When running for office in 2020, Sheriff Hale said he would provide deputies to direct traffic in front of the schools if elected, but he said that kind of assignment is dangerous and he was in favor of county plans for roadway improvements that would remove officers from the school entrances.

The Board of Education has resisted those efforts and has been unwilling in the past to pay for the deputies.

Construction Update

Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities for Oconee County Schools, updated the Board at the April 10 meeting on construction projects underway. Ricketson reports to LeDuff, and his update was part of the Associate Superintendent Report.

Ricketson said that work on Dove Creek Middle School continues on schedule.

“One thing that made my day is they started the landscaping out there and they’ve already got the trees in the ground,” he said. “A lot of times on school projects the trees don't make it in the ground until July, and they die immediately. So these trees have a chance of living.”

“The football field has been grassed,” he said. “This past week the football field lighting was installed.”

“I will assure you that everybody out there knows when school starts,” Ricketson said. That date is Aug. 2. “We will be ready,” he added.

Ricketson said clearing has begun on the site of the new Instructional Support Center on North Main Street in Watkinsville.

At Malcom Bridge Elementary School, construction also has begun on the 12-classroom addition, he said.

“They have already started building the pad for the building,” he said, “so we're moving.”

Those two projects are to be finished for the beginning of the 2024-2025 academic year.

New School, New Mascot

Steven Colquitt, Director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, told the Board that the mascot for the new Dove Creek Middle School will be Knights.

Screen Shot OCS Facebook Page

In the logo, D also appears, for the Dove Creek campus.

With approved variations in the logo, Colquitt said, newly appointed Principal Michael Eddy and his staff “will have a lot of different opportunities to promote the Dove Creek Knights.

The mascot for the Dove Creek Elementary School is the Dragons.


The video below is on the Oconee County Schools YouTube channel.

LeDuff began his safety report to the Board at 17:42 in the video.

Ricketson began his construction update at 22:57 in the video.

Colquitt made his report on the Dove Creek Middle School logo at 30:12 in the video.

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