Friday, January 05, 2024

Oconee County School Board Asked State To Grant Extension On Updating Local Facilities Plan

***Board Retreat Set For Jan. 16***

The Oconee County Board of Education, at its meeting in December, decided to ask the Georgia Department of Education to allow a one-year extension of its five-year local facilities plan that is set to expire on June 30 of this year.

The Board told the Department of Education in the resolution it approved at that Dec. 4 meeting that it will continue to update the current facilities plan.

Oconee County Schools is currently in the strategic planning process, the Board said, and that process “may determine the anticipated direction of additions and or new facilities” at the system’s schools.

The one-year extension will allow Oconee County Schools to include the results of that strategic planning process in the new plan, the Board stated, and the new plan will be completed by March 15 of 2025.

Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff, in presenting the resolution to the Board for approval at that December meeting, gave no hint of what additions or new facilities are being discussed in the Strategic Planning meetings, which are not open to the public.

At the January retreat of the Board of Education last year, however, LeDuff and Superintendent Jason Branch raised the possibility of adding a third high school to the system. At a public meeting as part of the strategic planning process last September, however, Branch favored expansion of the existing two high schools.

The Board will hold its 2024 retreat starting at 9 a.m. on Jan. 16 just outside the county at the Georgia Club. The meeting is open to the public, though citizen comment generally is not allowed.

While no agenda has been released for that meeting, at both the 2022 and 2023 retreats, a review of the five-year construction plan was part of the discussion.

2019 To 2024 Plan

The current Local Facilities Plan, a 127-page document, lists $61.6 million in planned construction, including the newly completed Dove Creek Middle School. That figure does not include the $14.5 million Instructional Support Center now under construction in Watkinsville.

Malcom Bridge Elementary School Addition (Left)
Photo From 12/4/2023 Meeting

Money for additions, renovations, or modifications at 10 of the 12 schools in the system were included in the plan. The exceptions were Dove Creek Elementary School and Dove Creek Middle School.

Oconee County Schools, since approval of that plan, has added 10 classrooms at Colham Ferry Elementary School and eight classrooms at High Shoals Elementary School, completed modifications at Oconee County Primary School, Oconee County Elementary School, and Oconee County High School, and currently is adding 12 classrooms at Malcom Bridge Elementary School.

Following the Board meeting on Dec. 4, Oconee County Schools issued a request for proposals for renovations at Rocky Branch Elementary School.

The materials in the section of the Oconee County Schools website on its current Strategic Plan do not list these or other construction projects or deal with school construction plans.

School Capacities

With the new additions, all of the system’s elementary schools will have a capacity of 750 students except for Oconee County Elementary School, which has only grades 3-5 and is fed students from Oconee County Primary School, with grades PK-2.

Each of the three middle schools has a capacity of 1,000 students, and the two High Schools have a capacity of 1,500 students.

Based on the official Oct. 3, 2023, enrollments filed with the Georgia Department of Education, none of the Oconee County Schools is at capacity, though North Oconee High School with 1,472 is closest. Oconee County High School has 1,314 students.

The 2019 To 2024 Local Facilities Plan projected enrollment at Oconee County Schools for the current school year at 9,245. The official enrollment count for Oct. 3 of 2023 was 8,535.

Rocky Branch Modifications And Renovations

According to the Fiscal Year 2025 Capital Outlay Project Application approved by the Board of Education in September, the renovations at Rocky Branch Elementary School will include such things as a new ceiling, door replacement, restroom modernization, rewiring, and painting.

The modifications will include replacement of kitchen hood and serving lines. It also will include roof replacement.

Rocky Branch Elementary School was first occupied in July of 2002, according to the application.

Oconee County Schools is requesting $526,216 in state funding for the project and expects to spend $963,954 in local funds, for a total cost of $1,490,170.

The application lists total enrollment of 596 at Rocky Branch Elementary, and the count for the official Oct. 3 enrollment report was 631. School capacity is 750.

Retreat Access

I asked Board of Education Chair Kim Argo in an email on Dec. 18 for the date of the January retreat.

Branch, Argo (Center)
Board Meeting 12/4/2023

“If a special board meeting is called, then notice will be posted on the Oconee County Schools website and also provided to the legal organization at least twenty-four hours in advance,” she responded the next day.

I learned yesterday (Jan. 4) that Argo had told Michael Prochaska, editor and co-publisher of The Oconee Enterprise, that the meeting would be on Jan. 16, but Prochaska said he did not know the time of the meeting.

I wrote to Argo that afternoon and asked her for the starting time, the room location, and “the procedures to use to get through the security gate?” The Georgia Club is a gated community, with access from Barber Creek Road and a gatehouse a short way into the property.

Argo wrote back that same day saying “I apologize for not forwarding to you my response to Michael’s email this morning. Plans have been finalized and the BOE retreat is scheduled on Tuesday, January 16, at 9:00 am at the Georgia Club.”

“I don’t have a room number, but it has been in the same place every year,” she wrote.

In the past, the meeting has been in the Clubhouse.

“In the past, I have stopped at the gate and have told the guard that I am there to attend the Oconee BOE meeting,” Argo wrote. “You might want to contact the central office to check on the procedure for entering the Georgia Club.”

Open Records Request

In an effort to learn the time, date, and location of the planned retreat, I had filed an open records request on Jan. 2 to obtain correspondence between Argo and Branch from Nov. 1 to Jan. 2 “regarding the 2024 Board Retreat.”

Director of Communications Steven Colquitt told me today (Jan. 5) that “There are no responsive records to your request.”

Colquitt handles open records requests for Oconee County Schools.

In the past, the meetings have not been video recorded by Oconee County Schools.

I cannot attend the retreat because of medical appointments and am trying to make arrangements to have the meeting video recorded.

NOTE: I added the last paragraph to the second section above at 8:08 a.m on 1/6/2024 and broke the second section into two parts.

1 comment:

Bill Mayberry said...

As usual, it all boils down to the all-important word: More.
Gotta have those retreats you know, without harming that
$35 million slush fund... uh, "Fund Balance."
Bill Mayberry