The Dade County Board of Education at its regular July meeting on Monday announced its decision not to “accept the growth” in the tax digest this year, which would mean collecting slightly more in property tax revenues due to an uptick in local property values but would necessitate public hearings. Instead, it will minutely roll back the millage rate—the percentage by which property value is multiplied to arrive at the tax—to keep taxes constant. The “rolled-back” rate for the new fiscal year is 15.070, down from this year’s 15.509.
This, explained the board’s finance director, Paula Stallings, will mean the board should collect taxes of $5,892,746, an increase of only $32,123 over last year.
At an earlier budget meeting, the B of E’s accountant had explained that though projected expenses were a little up for the new school year, so is income expected from the state, allowing the board to balance its budget for next year without collecting more taxes. But Ms. Stallings said on Monday that school taxes had suffered this year from more people claiming exemptions, including the controversial 65/5 tax break that allows residents over 65 years old to exempt five acres and houses of however high a value from the school portion of local property tax. Exemptions as a whole rose this year from $122,174,784, to $132,227,937, over $10 million, though Ms. Stallings could not say how much of the total was for 65/5.
The school board will hold a special called meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 30, in its offices in front of the high school off Highway 136 East, for the purpose of approving its millage rate. It will present the rate formally to the Dade County Commission at that body’s regular August meeting on Thursday, Aug. 2, instead of July 28 as the county commission had originally planned.
In other business, the board accepted the bad news that an access road for the long-planned cross-country course at Dade Middle School would cost more than expected. Dr. James Cantrell (right, addressing board), operations director, explained that the contractor who bid the job had had no way of knowing exactly how much it would cost to remove rock and soil until he’d begun the work. “When you dig out, you don’t know what you’re going to get into,” said Cantrell.
In one 140-foot section, he said, water seeps into the earth from a spring in the mountain and workers had had to drill down and put in netting, something called “jellystone” and then a cover so the water could continue going underneath. If
jellystone to the reader is associated with pic-a-nic baskets and bears wearing neckties, it apparently has different connotations in the excavation business, and a not inconsiderable price tag: Cantrell presented and the board approved a change order for for $25,911.83. The Planet reported in May that the original contract for the road was for $330,000 and was awarded to Ron McBryar Excavating.
Other SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) expenditures approved by the B of E at the July 16 meeting included $138,690 for the new Chrome Books okayed at the board's last meeting. The board had last year bought 1600 of the internet stations to bring the school system’s Chrome-Book-to-student ration up to one apiece. But as was explained last month, the schools had found it more expedient to keep the units in individual classrooms for students’ use there, and the extras were needed so that all classrooms would have enough including some that got shorted on the first go-round.
The board also approved $54,564 to an education vendor called Kloud-12 for a package to equip 10 classrooms with video cameras and enhanced audio. Teachers in those classrooms will wear microphones and their voices will be projected from four speakers in the ceiling. The Kloud-12 system also includes cameras that routinely videotape everything that goes on in the classroom. The date-and-time-stamped footage can then be used for security, teacher self-improvement, make-up material for kids who missed the class, or defense evidence in the case of educators unjustly accused of impropriety.
Schools Superintendent Jan Harris explained that Kloud-12’s minimum order is 10 rooms and that the classrooms chosen will be ones where enhanced security is most needed. Dr. Harris added that the schools hope to offset some of the cost with a grant from the Department of Justice.
Tech employee Chris Greene (left) got approval for $108,591 for cyber-security hardware and services. He had made the case for this at an earlier meeting, describing how the schools’ computer system had been attacked by “ransomware” that demanded payment for return of stolen computer files.
Board member Johnny Warren asked, “How many people do you know who have been held at ransom?” Happens all the time, said Greene: He’d known several school systems and some hospital administrators. Equipment had shut down and surgical procedures had had to be canceled. “Terrifying situation,” he said.
In a less high-tech expenditure, the board signed off on SPLOST funds for fireproof file cabinets after a discussion of how fireproof fireproof really was and the revelation that most school records were going cyber anyway. “We’ll be seeing less and less of filing cabinets,” said Dr. Harris. For now, though, the board agreed to see less of the $12,620 requested for the cabinets.
The board also approved $320 per month to continue its pest extermination services and okayed Chris Greene’s request to designate as surplus a number of older computers and laptops. Greene did not say how many but he described the number as “gigantic.” He said the computers were mostly six-to-eight years old and irreparable. “We’ve gotten wonderful service out of them,” he said. “There’s nothing here that is very feasible to fix.”
Dr. Cleta Long (right), nutrition director for the school system, discussed another big project coming up for the high school: a massive cafeteria remodeling. Superintendent Harris stressed that the renovation would be paid for mostly with federal dollars and explained that it was being done as the last step of the massive renovation the high school underwent last summer. “It’s like a cake that needs the icing on it,” said the super.
Dr. Long, who has planned this kind of project before, spoke about how much school cafeterias had changed over the years. “We try not to call it the lunchroom,” she said. After all, in Dade schools breakfast and snacks are also served, and some school systems also dish up supper.
Not only is the school cafeteria important because kids can’t learn when they’re hungry, said Dr. Long, but students also learn socialization there, and how to make choices. “We like to think of it more as a learning laboratory,” said Dr. Long.
Cafeteria layout must change with the changing times, said Dr. Long. “The first cafeterias were designed to resemble assembly lines,” she said. Now, she said, modern cafeteria furniture is designed both for convenience, as in sturdy but lightweight booths that can be easily folded up and rolled out of the way when need be,as well as social impact, as in long “community tables” where students can expand their acquaintance by eating with people they don’t know.
And let’s not forget tech: New tables are equipped with lithium batteries so students can charge their cell phones as they lunch. “We don’t want them sitting over by the plug and not eating their lunch,” she said.
Dade High principal James Fahrney added that the old tables and chairs now furnishing the cafeteria would not go to waste: Teachers want them for their classrooms.
Fahrney and the other school principals—minus Tracy Blevins of DES, who was on vacation—gave short reports on their schools’ preparation for the beginning of classes next month. Josh Ingle of Davis School reported that paving had been finished on the walking track there, a fence had been installed, and walls worked on inside and out. Dr. Sandra Spivey of Dade Middle said she had some new staff—“I really feel like we made some good hires this year”—and had made changes to the school’s social organization on which she was so cryptic as to be incomprehensible. “She wants to keep it top secret,” explained Dr. Harris. Farhney of DCHS said his school had modified its schedule to simplify testing and keeping track of attendance while allowing students to complete the “pathways” they’d set previously. “You’re keeping the best of both worlds,” he said.
In his operations report, Dr. Cantrell said three of the new school buses the system ordered had come in. Also, he said, as hoped, the governor had approved funds for another bus. The system now had the choice of ordering a new bus or using the money to pay for the special needs bus that had already been ordered but had not yet been invoiced.
Jan Mendez (right) from the state education department gave the board a presentation on a state discipline initiative faculty and staff will be trained on this year, PBIS, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. She summed it up: “Instead of saying no no no, we say yes.” Students will taught what’s expected of them and acknowledged for getting it right, then the results tracked on a computer system. PBIS team members will be appointed who each have a specific function. “It works very much like an athletic team,” she said.
Board member Gen. Bob Woods (ret.) questioned the data entry part of the project. “I don’t want the spreadsheet from hell,” he said.
But Dr. Harris said the schools already keep track of discipline data for the state so that it shouldn’t be that much more trouble.
After its usual executive, or closed-door, session on personnel, the board announced the following staffing changes:
Rhonda Duvall was hired as a science teacher, Jamey McCurry as a math teacher, and Kirk Prince as a social studies teacher, all at DCHS.
Rita Burgess was hired as custodian for DCHS.
Retirements were accepted from Stephen Walden, a DCHS Spanish teacher, and Mike Majewski, maintenance supervisor in Operations.
(Photo: Daniel Case attended the July meeting in preparation for taking the Dist. 1 BOE seat in January.)
Trinity Stafford was promoted from receptionist to cafeteria manager at DMS, and the following transfers were approved:
Laura Wood from kindergarten paraprofessional at Davis to special education parapro at Davis; Tonya Riley from special education parapro to pre-K parapro; Cheryl Daffron from pre-K parapro at Davis to special education parapro at DES; Skyla Castleberry from kindergarten special education parapro at DES to kindergarten parapro at DES; and Stacy Daniels from parapro at DES to parapro at DMS.
Baylee Weathers was approved as a substitute in school nutrition and Jessica Watson as a substitute teacher.
As for coaching staff, Jamie Bonner was named DMS head for the girls’ basketball team; Shannon Cord lay coach, DMS baseball and football; and Kirk Prince assistant basketball coach for DCHS girls’ team.
The board also approved a special education transportation and service agreement during executive session.