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February 26, 2009 Issue

Middle schools could be closed
Guns seized
Early voting begins
Three charged in armed robbery

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Middle schools could be closed

By Carol McLeod
Staff writer

With an anticipated deficit nearly $1.5 million, the Jefferson County Board of Education is looking closely at its spending.

During a BOE work session Saturday, Feb. 21, Superintendent Carl Bethune didn’t mince words when he said, “I’ve got a proposal here that we close two middle schools in Jefferson County.”

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Board members were quiet and waited for Bethune to continue.

“We have two choices,” he said.

The first choice is to put a wing on Jefferson County High School for all county seventh and eighth graders, which will save $1 million, Bethune said. The three elementary schools in the county would take on the sixth graders.

The second choice is to build a new middle school big enough for all middle grade students.

“That will save about $500,000; but, it’ll cost $20 million to build it,” he said.

“Really we’ve got three (choices),” he said, adding the third choice would be to make no changes at this time.

Bethune had told the board earlier that morning that the county’s school system faces a potential deficit of $1,430,150.

“With possible suggested cuts (in the budget), there is still a deficit of $572,229,” he said, adding the possible stimulus packages for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 could bring in more than $2 million.

“It’s hard to tell at this point where we’ll end up,” he said.

School board member Georgia Hunter asked about bringing students from two of the middle schools to the third and house all the middle grades in one of the schools the system already operates.

“Seventh and eighth graders should have their own (school) identity,” she said.

“This is not my decision,” Bethune said. “No one is making us do this. I think it’s (the economy is) going to get worse, y’all.”

“I think the recovery’s going to be long and protracted,” said school board member and chairman Jimmy Fleming.

“If we don’t change, we won’t exist,” said board member Bobby Butts. “I know they (the taxpayers) don’t want an increase in the millage rates.”

“If you have a wing on the high school, when students increase and we go back to having middle schools, you’ll have a wing on the high school for high school students,” board member Steve Norton said.

“We can make a change right now and not a single building needs to be built,” Hunter said, referring to her previous suggestion of using a current middle school.

Bethune said that was an option worth considering, but with the schools being more than 50 years old there would be future maintenance issues and costs associated with that.

“This all needs to fit,” Bethune said. “I really want the community to be involved in this. Y’all know the economy is the only reason I bring this.”

“Like you said we don’t have to do anything today,” Fleming said.

Bethune told the board he planned on discussing this issue with the county’s principals on Monday.

In separate interviews on Tuesday, the principals shared an understanding with the need to address the budget situation.

Sam Dasher, the principal of Louisville Middle School, said the main thing to keep in mind during the process is the welfare of the children.

“I just want to see what’s best for our children to be done,” Dasher said.

“It is a hard time right now, not just for Jefferson County, but for the nation, but ultimately we’re here for the kids. And I hope we don’t lose sight of that.”

Wrens Middle School Principal Julia Wells said she understood the need to address the budget in these tough economic times.

“The state of the economy is of grave concern to everyone,” she said. “I don’t think that there is a school system in the state or nation that has not been impacted by huge budget deficits. I think that the board’s discussion on the issue and its ultimate decision will impact students, parents and staffs at both middle schools. Whatever decision the board makes, I am sure, will be in the best interest of all concerned. I do encourage all parents and other interested persons to get involved in the study circles that the board will be implementing in the coming months to become more knowledgeable of the entire process.”

The proposal for the elementary schools to incorporate sixth graders is something those principals also understand.

Dr. Shawn Johnson, principal at Carver Elementary School, addressed the inclusion in the proposal of having study circles.

“My advice would be that the parents should get involved in as many discussions as they can,” she said.

“Listen to all of the options and do what is best for all of the children and of course what is best for the Jefferson County school system. Listen to all of the options and keep an open mind,” she said.

Johnson said if everyone listens to all of the options, they will have a better understanding of the direction in which the school system is going.

“Get involved and stay involved. Keep up with what is going on and ask questions because this is affecting their children,” she said.

Sharon Dye, principal at Wrens Elementary School, stressed that students should be the primary consideration

“Anything that we do, we’ve got to put the students first,” she said. “I was glad to hear there will be a planning process and we’ll have time to study this and that we can look at the pros and cons. The main thing we’ve got to look at is what’s best for the students. With the new construction at Wrens Elementary, we will have more than ample room to accommodate sixth graders on this campus.”

Louisville Academy Principal Hulet Kitterman said all the options need to be considered.

“I think we have to look at all of our options, the pros and cons of it, certainly keeping in mind the economic situation but what’s best for the children,” she said.

“We’ve had six graders before on campus and we have room for them. We’d have to shift things around. Any time you make changes in schools all the stake holders have to be involved in that process. There’ll have to be some groups that involve community people as well as educators.

“There’s no hidden agenda to any of this. It’s just a proposal and it does involve a lot of discussion and study,” Kitterman said, adding the principals plan to get together next week for a discussion.

At the high school, Principal Dr. Molly Howard said everything should be done with the children in mind.

“In these economic times, we must find every way possible to continue to provide the best and most efficient educational opportunities possible for our children,” she said.

“The proposal being studied by the board of education is one concept to accomplish that goal. If the board of education decides to bring the seventh and eighth grades to the high school campus, our staff will do everything possible to make the transition smooth and the educational benefits worthy of the change,” Howard said.

The superintendent and the board also stress the importance of doing what is best for the children, but they have to keep the bottom line in mind as well.

“I think what we’re all about right now in light of the economic situation is exploring every avenue we have in maintaining the quality that we have in our educational delivery,” said Fleming.

“That (quality of education) would be the last thing that we would want to give up. That would be the last thing impacted by the budget crisis. We’re going to explore all options. We’re looking at all options,” he said.

Fleming stressed that the board plans to meet with the parents and taxpayers about the proposal and other options.

“We’re going to have a community engagement session, a series of meetings and we’re certainly looking for all input for any suggestions. Certainly parents have a high priority in all those decisions,” he said.

“In the past three or four years, we have been on a very stringent campaign to save money so we have trimmed the operation of the school system to a minimum. Georgia kind of mirrors the economy and they’re our major funding source. This year is the greatest amount of cuts and they’re forecasting more cuts for next year so we’re trying to protect as many teaching positions as we can. Certainly we’re going to be losing some in any event,” he said.

“We don’t know what next year’s budget is going to look like and it’s nearly time for us to issue contracts. We’re waiting for the legislators to give us some kind of relief and we don’t know what our budget is going to be,” Fleming said.

The chairman said a certain number of positions will naturally be lost because of retirements and employees moving from the area.

“That would be the way we’d rather do it,” he said about reducing the number of employees.

“We’re trying to look at the options and make plans for continuing cuts (from the state) so that we’re not caught off-guard without plans to deal with the cuts. We want to try to protect as many jobs as we can and maintain or improve our quality of education. We’re trying to look at our options as early as we can so we have as many options available as we can,” he said.

“I think it’s a great idea, especially with the savings we will possibly have from doing this,” said the board’s vice chairman, Charlie Brown.

“When we were getting the property for the high school, we talked about one day having a middle school on that site. I’m in total agreement with it at this time,” he said.

“The middle school proposal is just that – a proposal – for the community to study in depth,” Bethune said.

“It is not a recommendation at this time. The present middle school configuration poses economic questions that all aspects of the community need to consider for the future. Our enrollment has declined and we face very difficult economic circumstances in the foreseeable future. The time appears right for the board to facilitate study groups throughout the county to look how to best serve our sixth, seventh and eighth graders,” he said.



Guns seized

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

A Glascock County man found himself in a familiar situation after officers found high powered rifles and handguns in his possession last week.

In July 2005, Gaynor Newsome ran from law enforcement to avoid a DUI at a road check, which also found him to be in possession of several firearms and knives in the vehicle he was driving. As a convicted felon, he may not be in the possession of firearms.

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Recently first responders and officers went to a call at Newsome’s residence reporting him possibly having a seizure. When officers arrived, he came outside to talk to them.

“He came outside and gave us no problem,” a responding officer said. “He wasn’t having a seizure, but he did fall and hurt his ribs. He said he didn’t remember anything.”

One deputy saw a gun in Newsome’s home leaning up against the wall. With the weapon being spotted, officers were given probable cause to search the residence, but still asked Newsome if he would give them consent to search, which he did.

“There was that one out in the open,” the officer said. “The rest were scattered throughout the house.”

It is a federal offense for a convicted felon to be in possession of a firearm.

Inside his home officers found 16 high powered rifles, handguns and more than 4,500 rounds of ammunition. All of the weapons and ammunition have been seized.

“He said he didn’t know they were there,” the officer said.

Newsome was taken to the hospital where he was treated and later released. The Glascock County Sheriff’s Office arrested Newsome on Thursday, Feb. 19.

He was later released on bond.



Early voting begins

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Early voting for the special election to be held March 17 has begun.

Jefferson County Registrar Chandrel Evans said Friday, Feb. 20, that she had received that day the ballots for the election for County Commissioner in District 3. The seat was vacated by the death of Sydney Norton in December. Whoever is elected to that post will serve out the balance of the term, which is about a year and a half.

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Evans said she would begin allowing early voting on Monday, Feb. 23. Early voting will last through Friday, March 6, she said.

Only voters who are registered to vote in District 3 are eligible to vote in the special election. Voters who have recently moved into the district will not be allowed to vote unless they have made a valid address change with the Registrar’s Office, Evans said.

Early voting is offered only at the Jefferson County Registrar’s Office located at 302 East Broad St., Louisville during normal business hours, which are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., she said.

“Advance voting is Monday, March 9, through Friday, March 13, also only in our office from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday,” Evans said. “We won’t close for lunch those days.”

Evans received the ballots Friday, Feb. 20, she said, adding that means voters can start requesting absentee ballots.

“To request an absentee ballot, voters can call the office, 478-625-8357 during business hours or stop by the office and request one,” she said.

These ballots, once complete, can be mailed or faxed to the registrar’s office but cannot be completed on site. The registrar’s office number is 478-625-8357. The fax number is 478-625-0597.

“They can still vote on Election Day at their regular precinct,” Evans said, reminding voters that this special election is only for District 3.

“The deadline for people to register to vote in this election was Tuesday, Feb. 17,” she said. “Anyone who had not registered by that date is not eligible to vote in this special election.”

Evans said Feb. 17 was the same deadline for a change in address or name.

“So if you have moved into this district (District 3) but did not complete a voter’s registration form to make either or both of these changes on or before Feb. 17, or if the change request was mailed and not post marked on or before the 17th, you will not be allowed to vote,” she said.

Any other voters with one or both of those changes who did not complete a voter’s registration form by the deadline will not be allowed to vote in the special election either, Evans said.

In order to win the seat, one of the six people who have qualified will have to receive a majority, which is at least 50 percent plus one vote of the total votes cast, a spokesman with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. In no one wins a majority, there will be a run-off election, which will be Tuesday, April 14.

Michael E. Brown, Charles Wayne Davis Sr., Dalton D. Dowdy, Horace Watson “Race” Lariscy III, Alec McNeely and Spence C. Norton have qualified for the vacancy.

The person elected will fill the remainder of Norton’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2010.



Three charged in armed robbery

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office announced recently three arrests in an incident that occurred Monday, Feb. 16. The three men were arrested within a day or two of the crime.

Jamol Marquise Cuyler, a.k.a. Jamol Marquise Anfield, 20, of Waynesboro was arrested Tuesday, Feb. 17.

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Terrance Delundray Graham, 17, of Louisville and Tom Ed McKennie III, 16, also of Louisville were both arrested Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Lt. Clark Heibert, an investigator with the JCSO, said because of the crime McKennie will be tried as an adult.

“The investigation is still ongoing. We expect to make another arrest soon,” the investigator said.

Heibert said that about 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, a woman drove into the JCSO parking lot.

“She came speeding up to Deputy (Michael) Dallas when she saw him in his car,” Heibert said. “She told him she had just been robbed near the Middleground Road and Zebina Road intersection.”

Heibert said the woman stated she had stopped on the side of the road because she thought she was helping a stranded motorist.

“The alleged stranded motorist was Jamol Cuyler, a.k.a. Jamol Anfield, who had called the victim and claimed he was stranded by the side of the road and needed her to come pick him up,” Heibert said.

“Unbeknownst to her, there were three individuals in a red and black Chevrolet pickup. That pickup was parked behind the church waiting on her to come to Mr. Cuyler’s car. When she passed the church, the three individuals called Mr. Cuyler and notified him that she was on the way,” he said.

“Mr. Cuyler told the three individuals to wait until she got to him and that he would call them and for them to give him two minutes and then come on up,” Heibert said.

“When they arrived, the outside passenger, who was Tom Ed McKennie III, stepped out of the pickup, put a gun to her head and demanded all her money and cell phones. She told him her money was in her pocketbook in her car. With the gun to her head, he made her go to her car and give him the pocketbook and the phone. The pocketbook had about $6,000 in cash, two credit cards, a debit card, a checkbook and numerous other items,” the investigator said.

When McKennie had the pocketbook and the phone, he struck the victim in the head and told her to go straight home, Heibert said.

“Instead, she came straight to the LEC,” he said.

Hiebert said while the three men were robbing the woman, Cuyler pretended he was scared.

“He ran off into a wooded area and waited until everyone had left,” Hiebert said.

“The three individuals in the red and black pickup proceeded to Wrens up Zebina Road, throwing out numerous items from the pocketbook along the way and the pocketbook. They proceeded to the Sprint in Wrens where $10 of gas was purchased and proceeded to Louisville. While on the road, they threw out a hooded pullover coat and the cell phone and the gun,” Hiebert said.

The victim had described the gun as a black pistol and that the hole the victim peered into appeared to be big enough for a pencil, he said, adding that would indicate a large caliber weapon.

Officers started locating some of the discarded items by the following morning and by 4:30 a.m. had found the pocketbook and a purse that had been inside the pocketbook, the investigator said.

“We recovered three $100 bills that had been overlooked,” he said.

As of press time Tuesday, $4,853 had been recovered, Hiebert said.

“At this time, Cuyler, a.k.a. Anfield, Terrence Graham and Tom McKennie III have all been all charged with armed robbery and kidnapping. There are additional charges pending,” the investigator said.

“The investigation is ongoing. We are looking for one or more additional suspects,” he said.



Early voting begins

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Early voting for the special election to be held March 17 has begun.

Jefferson County Registrar Chandrel Evans said Friday, Feb. 20, that she had received that day the ballots for the election for County Commissioner in District 3. The seat was vacated by the death of Sydney Norton in December. Whoever is elected to that post will serve out the balance of the term, which is about a year and a half.

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Evans said she would begin allowing early voting on Monday, Feb. 23. Early voting will last through Friday, March 6, she said.




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