Saturday, April 13, 2024

Oconee County School Board Calls Meeting To Discuss Fiscal Year 2025 Budget

***Also Gets Update On Strategic Plan

The Oconee County Board of Education has scheduled a called special session starting at 4 p.m. on Monday that is being labeled a budget workshop.

Superintendent Jason Branch announced the special session in his report to the Board at its work session on Monday

The official announcement of the meeting went out at 4 p.m. on Friday with the agenda for the regular meeting that will follow at 6 p.m. and was placed on the Upcoming Events listing on the Oconee County Schools web site.

Both meetings are scheduled to take place in the Central Office Building, 34 School Street in Watkinsville.

Also at the work session on Monday, Chief Academic Officer Susan Stancil provided the Board with an update on the system’s Strategic Plan and placed on the agenda for action on this coming Monday approval of a Strategy Map for the Plan.

At the Monday meeting, Stancil also presented to the Board the Strategic Waiver School System Application that has been submitted to the Georgia Department of Education for review, and Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities, provided an update on the system’s ongoing construction projects.

Called Session

In his report to the Board on Monday, Branch said “as requested, staff has been working on preparation for a budget workshop that will be focused on expenditures.”

“We are targeting that to be held next Monday at 4 p.m., and (Director of Communications) Mr. (Steven) Colquitt will communicate through our normal channels,” he said, “because that will need to be called a special session. And again that'll be focused on the expenditures for FY 2025, as requested.”

The Oconee County Schools home page listing of Upcoming Events does not indicate the purpose of the special Monday meeting, but the listing of the item on the internal Board simbli site does list the special session as a Budget Workshop. (The agenda does not indicate what will be presented on Monday.)

The Board did not hold a Budget Workshop or any similar special session last year, and the simbli site does not list any Budget Workshops going back at least through 2014.

At the hearings last year before the Board adopted the millage rate for the current budget, Board Member Tim Burgess told one of the citizens who spoke that the Board spent “four months putting this budget together.”

“We actually debate the budget two months before we ever approve it,” he said.

Burgess said those discussions and debates were held in open meetings, but an analysis of the video record of the public meetings indicated the Board spent 28 minutes with the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget in public before adopting it.

Almost all of that time was devoted to presentations to the Board by Oconee County Schools staff, and less than 10 of this minutes involved comments from Board members directed at staff members rather than discussion among the Board members.

Concerns about Board transparency and governance have been raised at both of the candidate forums for the May 21 primaries held to date, one by the Oconee County Republican Party and the other by the Conservatives of Northeast Georgia.

Strategic Plan Update

Chief Academic Officer Stancil began her report on the Strategic Plan by reminding the Board that the goal was “to develop a strategic improvement plan for our school system” that “engaged the community and all stakeholder groups to create universal ownership and support for system and school improvement.”

Recommended For Adoption By Board

She said that approximately 500 people participated in “a community strategic planning session” last fall, and more than 1,100 people “provided input through an online survey.”

“The planning team met in November of 2023 to work with the Georgia School Board Association to use the input from these stakeholders to develop strategic goals areas and performance objectives,” she said.

According to Stancil, the planning team developed five strategic goal areas: student achievement and success, team and talent development, community engagement, culture and climate, and organization and operational effectiveness.

Stancil said the Oconee County Schools planning team and action team developed performance objectives for each goal area and a “strategy map,” which is “a visual representation of an organization's high level strategy to reach its vision for the future.”

Stancil then presented the strategy map showing “the five strategic goal areas and the 15 performance objectives that were developed as the framework for the strategic plan” and said it is the superintendent’s recommend that the Board approve the document at the meeting on April 15.

When Stancil had finished, Burgess said “you guys have done a really good job with this, going all the way back to when we started listening to all the comments and reading through some of the comments and suggestions that were made during our big session at the Civic Center.”

Burgess said the goals were “well balanced to sort of hit on the five major themes that we ought to be paying attention to for our school system to make sure that we maintain the excellence that everybody expects.”

Strategic Waiver

Stancil also presented to the Board the Strategic Waiver Application in the form of a draft contract with the State Board of Education that provide Oconee County Schools waivers of certain state laws, rules, and guidelines in exchange for greater accountability for increased student performance.

Stancil said the draft contract was submitted to the Georgia Department of Education in March. The state will review the proposed contract and provide feedback by the end of April, she said.

The draft asks for Academic Program Flexibility, included in such areas as online learning, remedial education, and graduation requirements.

It also seeks Human Resources Flexibility, including in design of the school calendar and in developing “a budget based on system and school strategic plans, without limitation based on state-required use of funds.”

Finally, it seeks Financial Flexibility, including “to deliver various programs and services without programmatic restrictions tied to state funding.”

In response to a question from Burgess, Stancil confirmed that this is the second such Strategic Waiver Application Oconee County Schools has requested.

“We used the waivers that we submitted five years ago and basically applied for the identical waivers that we've had in place,” she said.

Other Reports

Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff reported that Oconee County Schools continues to participate in the state Local Foods for Schools Program through which the schools partners with a butcher in Watkinsville and farmers in Ellijay, Monroe, and Cullman, Ala., for fresh meat, apples, lettuce and sweet potatoes for the student meals.

Instructional Support Center
Presentation 4/8/2024

Director of Facilities Ricketson said in his construction update that the cupola was installed last week at the Instructional Support Center on North Main Street in Watkinsville and “finishes are ongoing on the inside of the building, and the landscapers have begun on the outside of the building.”

“So we're in the final stretch down on that,” he said.

The construction of the 12-classroom addition at Malcom Bridge Elementary School is complete, he said, with the “with the exception of the generator, which is scheduled to arrive this month.”

The renovations and modifications at Rocky Branch Elementary School “got a jump start on the summer. (We) did a lot of work last week while school was out. We did a great deal of exterior painting, did some work in the closets and in the media center,” he said.

Ricketson told Burgess that the Rocky Branch Elementary School work will be completed in time for school to start and that work on the Instructional Support Center will be completed “by the time of our dedication in a couple months.”

“The cupola is great, by the way,” Burgess said. “Very, very distinguished.

The Board added the ornamental cupola and decorative smoke stacks to the building because the old high school building now used by OCAF had contained them.

The building also will have large decorative columns in front of the main entrance.


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

Branch made his comment about the upcoming budget report at 6:21 in the video. He began his report to the Board at 0.23 in the video.

Stancil began her report at 6:52 in the video.

Ricketson began his operations report at 28:29 in the video.

1 comment:

Ian Taylor said...

The meeting announcement posted on the OCS website on Friday for the meeting on Monday at 4pm gives no clue as to the reason for the meeting. Buried deep within the board simbli website is an "agenda" that gives a clue as to what the meeting will be about.

Clearly, this "budget workshop" is in response to the board being called out last year for not having any of these meetings in public, but having it at 4pm, announced on a Friday afternoon and not clearly stating what the meeting is about shows that the board really does not want the public to attend. Watching the video of the previous work session shows that superintendent Branch was not happy with having to have this meeting.

All that said, it is a step in the right direction, and credit to Lee and the Oconee Enterprise for continuing to call out the board for not following the law. Let's hope this is not an election year stunt and does indicate some recognition by the board that the citizens of this county are paying attention.

However, as of Sunday morning the agenda for the 6pm meeting on Monday has still not been published. All that is there is the pro-forma agenda, with the only action item being the approval of the minutes from previous meetings. I would like to assume the board gets an agenda more than a few minutes before the meeting, why can't that be shared with the public? They can post an announcement of every little thing on their website or Facebook page, surely it would not be too hard for the crack communications team to make one more post?

Ian Taylor