Ribbon cut on WES expansion
By Parish Howard
Nearly 200 people gathered Sunday for the official opening of Wrens Elementary School’s new expansion, the final stage of a two and half year building project that redesigned the school.
School board members joined principal Sharon Dye as she cut the ribbon at the school’s new façade and invited the public in to tour the building.
“I have to give the credit to Mrs. Dye for organizing and orchestrating a wonderful dedication ceremony,” said Superintendent Carl Bethune. “It was a wonderful afternoon for the people of Wrens to see their spectacular new building.”
In addition to giving the school a whole new look, with new façade that creates more space between the roadway and school, the redesign also encloses all areas but the gymnasium.
“Before students were having to go outside to go from building to building,” Bethune said. “Now they never have to leave the enclosed structure.”
The newest addition, only completed in the last couple of months, is the long wing that attaches the wings of classroom buildings. On one end is the new lunchroom/auditorium that was completed last year. The public was also able to tour the newly opened administrative offices, clinic, media center, computer lab and reading room.
Dye announced that the reading room is being dedicated to and named for Herbert Anderson, a local businessman and author who donated many hours to reading to children at WES over the years.
WES fifth grader Jada Lacy gave those gathered a student’s perspective on the changes she has seen in the school.
“I remember when I was in the first grade,” she said. “I used to take the attendance to the old office and I couldn’t see anything above the giant desks in there…Now, when we walk into the new office it feels open, fresh and welcoming. I love the long clear glass windows, low counter tops and even the new nurses’ clinic.”
The first phase of the project, bid out to Buckley and Associates of Swainsboro in 2007, involved partial demolition of an already vacated classroom area construction of about 16 new classrooms, the lunchroom and new kitchen. The second phase, just recently completed, involved the demolition of the old media center, cafeteria and the construction of the new main entry and suites mentioned above.
“But my personal favorite addition is this beautiful new stage…,” Lacy said. “Check out these stunning hardwood floors that are protected by our blue and gold curtains. We have already broken in this stage with many plays, musicals and dance routines. Now that we have a big cafeteria connected to this big stage, the entire student body can enjoy these performances together as one…Even though I don’t ride the bus, my friends tell me how much better going to the busses is. Now they don’t have to walk outside on a rainy day.”
The new design also provides more space for cars to line up while waiting to drop off or pick up students.
“Originally the school was just going to have an addition done to the building,” said Craig Buckley of Buckley Associates. “With a bit of innovative planning and state funding we’re able to, in essence, create a brand new school.”
The school system was able to secure a $2 million grant from the state that went toward the facility but otherwise the construction at the school was largely funded through Special Local Option Sales Tax.
“Through SPLOST we have been strategically making improvements in all of our schools, which should provide better educational and more technologically advanced environments for all of our students,” Bethune said in a previous interview on this project.
DA to hire victim advocate for Jefferson County
By Carol McLeod
Jefferson County District Attorney Hayward Altman said he will be using 5 percent money to hire an additional victim advocate.
“The funding is from 5 percent money,” Altman said in an interview Wednesday, Feb. 24. “For every fine that is ordered in Superior Court, Municipal Court and State Court in the county, 5 percent is added on to those fines for victims’ services. That money is used for a variety of things.”
Altman said he wanted to let citizens know the funds are not from taxpayers.
“In this particular case, Jefferson County had accumulated a certain amount of money, and I’m not sure how much, from those fines over the past few years and the law requires that money to be spent on victims services,” he said, adding the applicable law is a state law.
Altman said the 5 percent money is turned over to the county commission for certified programs and/or the district attorney.
“They graciously turned the money over to me,” he said. “They also provided a certain amount of money, I think it was $5,000, to The Sunshine House.”
The Sunshine House Children’s Advocacy Center is a non-profit in Swainsboro. The agency assists law enforcement and the Department of Family and Children Services with the investigations of child sexual abuse.
“It’s important for Jefferson County citizens to understand that money cannot be used for anything other than victim services and it cannot be put into the general fund of the county,” Altman said.
“Once they graciously turned the money over to me, I thought there was no better way to use that money than to return it to the county in the form of a new job,” he said.
Altman said the position will be a victim service advocate from his office who will make contact with victims of crimes and assist the victims in other matters.
“This person will make contact with victims, file the correct paperwork to notify victims of courtroom procedure, will explain courtroom procedure, be available to answer victims’ questions throughout the judicial process and will notify them of any programs that will provide assistance to the victims,” Altman said.
“This person will help the victim of serious, violent crimes file the appropriate paperwork with the state of Georgia to obtain compensation for medical bills, lost wages and other expenses that are reimbursed through the state of Georgia,” he said.
Altman said the money to pay for these expenses comes from add ons criminal defendants, once convicted, have to pay.
“This position will be filled by a person who will be a resident of Jefferson County. Duties will primarily be for Jefferson County victims and citizens,” he said.
There are already positions like this in his office; but, this will be the first such position where the advocate will focus on Jefferson County victims, Altman said.
The money will fund the position for at least four years, by which time he hopes the area will have recovered from the current financial downturn, adding whoever is hired for this position will have state benefits.
“This is a commitment I made to victims of crime in the Middle Judicial Circuit when I was elected DA and I will continue to stress the rights of victims in criminal cases and will continue to find ways and means to assist victims,” he said.
“Since Jan 1, 2009, when we first began our current victims advocate program, we’ve collected approximately $600,000 for victims in this circuit that had never been collected before,” he said.
Rick Malone, the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said the victims’ program in the Middle Judicial Circuit, which contains Jefferson County, was originally started in the early 1990s and continued through the time when Malone was the circuit’s district attorney.
“It was restarted in 2009,” he said, adding Altman reinstated the program in 2009 when he became the district attorney for the circuit.
Malone said during the time when the program was stopped, the Middle Judicial Circuit was the only circuit of the 49 in Georgia that did not have a program for victims.
Malone said the program also provides victims with access to other resources.
“Nobody expects to be a victim,” he said. “Louisville can’t supply all of (those resources), but Augusta can.”
One of the services available to victims is a compensation program, which is paid for by federal fines from federal crimes, he said.
“It pays for counseling; it pays for medical bills. It helps people who have been dragged into the judicial system, not because of any actions of theirs but because of the actions of others,” Malone said.
Altman said he plans to start advertising the position sometime in March and will start accepting applications at that time. He said he hopes to fill the position sometime in April.
Louisville plans to crackdown on parking violations
Drivers in Louisville should use care when parking their vehicles inside city limits, Louisville Police Chief Jimmy Miller said in an interview last week.
The chief said parking in a designated fire lane can result in a $140 fine. Illegally parking in handicap spaces can result in a $250 fine for the first offense and a $500 fine for the second offense, he said.
An officer with the LPD, Lt. Teddy Jackson, visited stores in the city to ask store owners to let their vendors know not to make deliveries in fire lanes, Jackson said.
Miller said drivers should be aware that having a handicapped sticker or license plate applies only when the handicapped person is in the vehicle.
“These ordinances will be strictly enforced,” Miller said, adding that fines will be assessed to any driver who parks in a handicapped space without the handicapped person in the car.
Jackson said tickets for these types of violations will not be dismissed.
“Unless the judge dismisses them,” he said.
Miller said there are places in the city where there is not a fire lane marked but there is still a yellow curb. Drivers who park there will still get a ticket, he said.
“People are also not stopping at crosswalks for pedestrians,” Jackson said.
Even at crosswalks without signs, pedestrians still have the right of way, Miller said.
The chief said people should also be aware that parking in the crosswalk or in a way that blocks access to the crosswalk are violations; and violators will be subject to fines.
Board decides to move forward with search
In a called meeting Thursday, Feb. 25, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted to contract with the Georgia School Board Association to search for a replacement for board superintendent, Carl Bethune, who announced his retirement last month.
Bethune will retire at the end of May.
The board also discussed current cuts in funding as well as anticipated future cuts.
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Board member Georgia Hunter said there are a lot of options for the board to consider and they should focus on things that least effect instruction.
“There are things that we have no control over,” she said.
Jimmy Fleming, the board’s chairman, said public education is in a critical situation.
“But we’re in better shape than a lot of systems,” he said.
“They could make a bill in November that changes whatever we do now,” Hunter said, referring to the General Assembly.
“We know what we’ve got now and we just have to do the best we can now,” she said.
Board member Bobby Butts made a motion, seconded by Hunter, to use GSBA to help recruit applicants for the superintendent’s replacement. The motion passed.
Fleming told the board in an earlier meeting the cost will be $8,000 plus travel expenses.
“The quicker we get this show on the road, the quicker we’ll have it resolved,” Hunter said.
A citizen who was present at the meeting asked the board who will set the standards for the applicants, GSBA or the board.
Fleming told her the board would, adding that all applicants would be considered equally.
Fleming has said GSBA will advertise for applicants, review them according to criteria set by the board and refer several to the board for consideration.
The final selection will be up to the board, which hopes to have the search completed and someone in place before school begins in the fall.