SPLOST to appear on ballot
By Carol McLeod
“Our resources are more precious then they’ve ever been,” Dr. Molly Howard told a group of citizens during a recent community meeting.
Howard, Jefferson County’s school board superintendent, spoke during a strategic planning meeting at Jefferson County High School Monday, Jan. 31.
Part of the discussion included an overview of the state and federal funding cuts school systems throughout the state have faced over the past year.
On Tuesday, March 15, voters in Jefferson County will determine the fate of a proposed Special Projects Local Option Sales Tax for the county’s board of education.
The current education SPLOST will end in July 2012, Howard said in an interview Friday, Feb. 18.
“This will not pick up until that runs out,” she said. “This is not an additional tax. This is not another 1 cent on top of what we’re already doing.”
During the meeting, Howard reviewed some information about the current SPLOST and the two earlier ones.
The main project paid for by the first SPLOST, which began in 1998, brought in $8,051,241 and helped fund the JCHS bond payment and the renovation for Carver Elementary School, she said.
The next education SPLOST, which began in 2003, continued to pay the JCHS bond payments and paid for the auxiliary gym and the professional food lab at JCHS, she said.
The current education SPLOST, which began in 2008, will continue the JCHS bond payments and the Wrens Elementary School renovation, she said.
State funding in fiscal year 2003 was cut by $303,769, she said, and the cuts continued increasing. The initial state cuts for fiscal year 2011 total more than $2 million, she said.
Howard said the issue affecting the county’s schools are loss of state funding; increases in state and federal unfunded mandates; declining enrollment and a large, sparsely populated geographic area that in turn impacts transportation and access to schools.
Howard told the audience since fiscal year 2009, the county school system has lost 34 positions, most of which were teachers.
She said that had been handled through attrition and when someone retired or left a position, they were not replaced.
Howard’s presentation, which is posted on the school system’s website, www.jefferson.k12.ga.us, included this statement, “We believe that public education is the cornerstone of American democracy.”
The full presentation can be viewed under the title, “Community Meeting PowerPoint Presentation.”
The school nutrition program continues to provide free and reduced meals to more than 80 percent of the students.
In the 2008-2009 school year, 83.85 percent of students received free meals or meals at a reduced price. In the following year, 2009-2010, the rate was 83.75 percent. Currently, that rate is 84.12 percent.
Howard also reviewed how the county’s school system is funded.
Revenue during fiscal year 2009 was broken down as federal sources providing 12 percent of revenue, state sources providing 64 percent and local sources providing 24 percent.
In fiscal year 2010, local sources provided 24 percent. So far this fiscal year, local sources are providing 23 percent.
However, state revenue has been reduced while federal revenue has increased.
In an interview Friday, Feb. 18, Howard said SPLOST has allowed the school system to keep the schools in running order as far as heating, air conditioning and roofs.
“That sort of thing. It’s also needed renovations without having to raise our millage rate,” she said.
“It’s also allowed us to pay off the bond indebtedness that we have for the high school. We have those bonds until 2017, the original indebtedness for the high school,” Howard said.
“We’ve renovated Carver and Wrens elementary schools from the 1950’s structures that were able to be brought up to modern standards, electrical, heating, air technology,” she said.
Howard said they have been able to provide a professional foods lab at the high school as well as create a choral program both of which provide increased opportunities for students.
Projections for the upcoming SPLOST are for it to generate about $7 million over the course of five years, she said.
“It’s all dependent upon the economy,” she said.
“It’s very important for us to be able to keep the millage rate down because we have to pay down the bond indebtedness whether we do any capital improvements or not,” Howard said.
Howard said the SPLOST will allow the school system to continue with capital improvements and ensure the roofs are maintained and kept in good order.
“The same things that we’ve always done,” she said. “The first thing we do is the bond indebtedness. That’s first and foremost.”
The superintendent said the school board is currently looking at capital improvements for Louisville Academy.
“The SPLOST is written such that if it’s feasible to renovate Louisville Academy, then we’ll renovate it. We have to do a study to see if it’s feasible to determine what is the best way to approach the needs at Louisville Academy is it renovation or new construction,” she said.
“It’s very important for people to remember to come out and vote. It’s not a typical election. It’s so important that we not let our SPLOST run out,” she said.
Howard said there are only certain times a SPLOST can be put before the voters.
“If it fails to pass, we can’t bring it before the voters again for another year, which will cause the one now to run out. That’s why it’s so important for it to pass,” she said.
Jimmy Fleming, the chairman of the school board, said in an interview Friday, Feb. 18, the school system needs the SPLOST to continue.
“It is important for Jefferson County schools because there’s no money in our budget for capital improvements and building maintenance, really,” he said.
Fleming said there is an additional expected 1 percent cut from state funding that will be significant.
There was a jobs bill from the federal stimulus package last year that provided some funding to the school system; but, that money will not be available this year, he said.
“I think in general we feel it’s the wrong time to raise the millage rate on the property owners. Everybody’s struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “It’s always up to us to use our money, the taxpayers’ money, to the greatest benefit. Everybody remember to come out and vote,” Fleming said.
Chandrel Evans, voter registration clerk for Jefferson County, said early voting will began Wednesday, Feb. 23, and ends Friday, March 4. Voting will be available only at the county registrar’s office at 302 East Broad St. in Louisville. Hours during early voting are from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Advance voting, which will also be held at the registrar’s office, will be from Monday, March 7, through Friday, March 11. Hours during advance voting are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The cut off date to registrar to vote during the March 15 election was Monday, Feb. 14, Evans said.
JCHS FFA team recognized
By Bonnie Sargent
The Jefferson County High School FFA Chapter traveled to Indianapolis last semester where they competed in the National Forestry Career Development Event. The competition was held Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010 and lasted through Saturday, Oct. 23.
The career development event is a competition designed to test student knowledge of the forestry industry as it is related to the global market. Steven Sheram, the horticulture teacher at JCHS and FFA Chapter Advisor, said the competition consisted of several different categories on different days. Wednesday the students faced a general knowledge test on the forestry industry. Thursday they were tested on compass interpretation, dendrology, forest disorders, forest inventory and wood products. Sheram said the final score is a combination of all the different categories, including an interview process.
The Jefferson County Chapter has competed in the event’s national level four times in the past six years. They won second place twice in the past and this year the team placed third.
Sheram said this is a major accomplishment for the school and because of these accomplishments, JCHS has one of the top ranked forestry programs in the nation. Sheram said he thinks that FFA is important to students because it gives them a way to compete.
“It’s just like athletics,” he said. “They enjoy the competition. They make it a priority. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.”
Sheram said many FFA students eventually have careers related to the field. He said they go into soils, hydrology, landscape architecture and agriculture engineering.
“We have a number of students who are now at the University of Georgia and are enrolled in Agriculture programs,” he said.
Sheram was in FFA as a student as well. He said what he enjoyed most was going to competitions. He said he didn’t plan on being a teacher when he first graduated but at the end of his first year at the university he knew what he wanted to be. Sheram said his teacher Mr. McGill had a big influence on his decision to become a teacher, as did many of his friends who were in FFA.
Sheram said FFA isn’t just forestry. In 1988 the organization changed its name from the Future Farmers of America to the National FFA Organization to reflect the diversity of agricultural careers available to its members. Sheram said the students study different aspects of forestry and agriculture, including nutrient analysis, soil sampling, conservation techniques and soil conservation.
The team that attended the national event was composed of Robin Studdard, Amy Walden, Rachel Foss and Jared McNair.
“Nationals were great,” Foss said. “It was a different experience competing in a northern forest and even though we didn’t get first place, Mr. Sheram is an amazing teacher and we learned a lot.”
In an interview, Walden, Foss and McNair all agreed that the competition was a good experience that they really enjoyed. McNair said he is considering becoming an agriculture teacher in the future.
“Even though all of us may not want to pursue agricultural careers, FFA was still a good experience and we learned some very useful skills,” Foss said.
Studdard was the top ranked individual in the nation. She is now enrolled at the University of Georgia and is furthering her agriculture experience by studying soil and water conservation, which is a major issue globally. Studdard was honored with a certificate of excellence by Dr. John Barge during the February State School Board of Education meeting.
Sheram said the students practiced many hours during their summer break. He said it was a major letdown only placing third, but they did everything in their power to represent Jefferson County and Georgia well.
“The students were very upset with their third place finish and thought they had let the school, county and state down. The team was not satisfied with anything less than first place, due to their competitive spirit,” Sheram said. “However, the team always showed exceptional spirit and character.”
Sheram said all four students are graduating this year and will be extremely difficult to replace.
Wreck with cow leads to fatal accident
By Faye Ellison
An isolated incident with a farm animal Saturday, led to a late afternoon fatality on Highway 24, just outside of Louisville.
A cow from a local farm entered the roadway shortly after 7 p.m. on Feb. 19. While driving east on Highway 24, a white 1999 Ford truck driven by Wayne McDuffy Scott, 58, of Waynesboro struck the cow as it came into the roadway.
“The driver stated that a cow came into the roadway and he was unable to avoid it,” the Georgia State Patrol report states. “The officer’s investigation revealed that the cow did enter into the path of the vehicle and the front bumper struck the cow. The area of impact occurred in the eastbound lane of traffic.”
As law enforcement was notified and working to clear the scene, another accident occurred while vehicles were stopped waiting for the roadway to reopen.
At 7:50 p.m., a black 2007 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Bobby James Broomfield, 54, of Louisville was traveling west on Highway 24 in the direction of the first accident. A white 1996 Chevrolet C1500, being driven by Roy C. Walker, 59, of Bartow was stopped for the original accident.
“The driver of the Silverado stated that he saw the patrol vehicle and thought he had someone pulled over,” the report states. “He stated he never saw the Chevrolet C1500 sitting in the roadway.”
The officer’s investigation revealed that the front of Broomfield’s truck struck the rear of Walker’s truck. After impact Broomfield traveled west for 93 feet, striking a sign that belonged to 4885 Highway 24, coming to an uncontrolled final resting position.
Walker’s vehicle traveled west for 193 feet where it also came to an uncontrolled final resting position.
Walker had a passenger in his truck, James Morgan, 63, of Bartow who was pronounced dead at 8:33 p.m. after being transported to Jefferson Hospital. The body was taken to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Lab.
Deputy Coroner Fay McGahee said as of press time on Tuesday it was unclear whether injuries from the accident, if any, suffered by Morgan may or may not have caused his death.
McGahee said others involved only suffered minor injuries. The Georgia State Patrol Post in Swainsboro also said as of Tuesday there were no charges against any of the drivers involved in either accident.
Grand jury no-bills Wadley dog killing case
By Carol McLeod
A case that horrified and angered citizens of at least two counties was no billed by the Jefferson County grand jury, District Attorney Hayward Altman said Friday, Feb. 18.
The grand jury met Tuesday, Feb. 15, and made its decision in the case against Charles Frank Strother, a 52-year-old Wadley man who had dumped 19 dead dogs in Burke County late last year.
Public works employees found the dogs’ remains in November along Old Wadley Road near Midville.
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Authorities said at the time he faced 20 counts of illegal dumping in Burke County, one count for each dog plus an additional count for a blue tarp that was dumped along with the dogs.
All those charges are misdemeanors, they said.
Wadley Police Chief Wesley Lewis said at the time Strother admitted killing the dogs in Jefferson County and transporting them to Burke County.
Lewis had said Strother had called police and told them the dogs had attacked some of his other dogs. The chief said Strother had wanted the responding officer to put the dogs down.
Lewis said Strother was advised that he could only defend himself or protect the other animals or the neighborhood from injury or damage being caused by an animal.
“He took it upon himself to destroy the animals,” Lewis said.
All Wadley police officers wear small video cameras on their uniforms and the responding officer recorded her conversation with Strother.
“On the video, he told the officer he needed to put them down because they would probably get out and there were a bunch of children in the neighborhood and he didn’t want to be responsible for what those dogs could do to the children,” Lewis said.
“And he wasn’t thinking when he disposed of them,” he said.
Altman said Friday the Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted a thorough investigation and determined that only four of the dogs were shot and killed.
“These were four adult dogs that had killed the other puppies,” the district attorney said.
“The owners had dangerous dogs and had contacted local police department to get instructions on how to handle dangerous dogs. According to the GBI investigation the chief of Wadley actually gave him the correct law as to how to handle dogs that are dangerous to human life and animal life,” Altman said.
Because there’s no shelter to take them to in Jefferson County, the owner killed the dogs himself, he said.
“The only violation of the law came about when the dogs were dumped in Burke County and as such venue lies there for any prosecution for dumping the dogs,” Altman said.
“Primarily what you have is a desperate owner looking for a way to protect himself and his family members as well as other dogs he may have from dogs that turned out to be very, very vicious,” he said.