Citizen says BOE limiting ‘free speech’
BY KERRI TESTEMENT
The Jackson County Board of Education’s plans to change its policy on public comment at board meetings would limit free speech, according to one parent.
Redd Howe told the board on Monday about his concerns for the revised public participation policy for BOE meetings.
One of the changes Howe objected to centers on limiting the public comment portion of the board meeting to a total of 30 minutes. Howe said more issues could be addressed if the public comment portion isn’t limited.
“You’re limiting free speech,” said Howe, who has spoken to the board on various issues in recent months.
Chairperson Kathy Wilbanks said she has served on the board for 10 years and she couldn’t remember a time when so many issues needed to be addressed at one meeting.
Howe also took issue with a change that states the board will not respond to comments or questions by citizens in their presentations. Within five business days of the meeting, the superintendent will respond on behalf of the board.
“That’s wrong,” Howe said. “That’s not the kind of school board we want.”
Wilbanks said the board is streamlining its policies to conduct more official business at meetings. The board will continue to talk to citizens and answer concerns sent to the board office, she added.
At Howe’s request, the board decided to postpone a vote on the proposed changes for a month. The BOE also tabled the same policies last month.
In other business, the Jackson County BOE:
• met in a closed-door session for 30 minutes on Thursday night to discuss litigation. The board took no action when the meeting was opened to the public.
• approved the refinancing of the 1998 bonds and adopted a 2008 bond resolution.
• approved a salary schedule for certified and classified employees for next school year. The schedule includes a 2.5 percent pay increase for all employees.
• heard from superintendent Shannon Adams on the budget process. Adams said he and several top administrators at the central office met with school principals on the budget crunch. “We gave a very frank, honest look at the situation,” Adams said. He added that principals are willing to trim their budgets. An initial budget proposed for next school year includes an estimated $1.9 million deficit.
• heard from Jeff Sanchez, assistant superintendent for finance and information services, on the budget process. Sanchez said he is “fine tuning” the final personnel roster for the schools.
• heard from Adams, who said sales tax revenue rose last month to $477,000. The school system collected $426,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds in January, he said.
• learned that the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Gum Springs Elementary School will be held on Sunday, Aug. 3, at 3 p.m. A construction “punch list” is about 70 percent complete. The school also received a temporary, 30-day certificate of occupancy. The landscaping is done and furniture is being moved into the building this week.
• learned that the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education will make a stop at East Jackson Elementary School around Oct. 28. The tour includes 70 business, government and community leaders throughout the state. Principal Jennifer Norris said the school was selected for the tour based on student achievement.
• heard from Ricky Sanders, director of the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department, who thanked the school board for participating in a joint agreement to share facilities and maintenance. Sanders provided a list of changes made to facilities at the schools for recreation programs. Sanders said the JCPR cuts more than 30 acres of grass a week at 27 fields at the schools. The elementary school gyms hosted more than 1,500 practices and 432 games during the school year.
• heard from Joann Zupsic, who will be the principal of the Gordon Street Center next school year. Zupsic presented several possible changes for the alternative school, including a new schedule and “levels” to reward students for good behavior.
• heard from Jeanette Finch, who asked for a hardship review of the school zone attendance policy for her five grandchildren.
• heard from Walter Barnett, whose wife works in the food service department at Benton Elementary School. Barnett asked the board to review a retirement contribution policy for food service employees.
• learned that the annual school council reports for each school are available on the board’s eBoard website under the “Documents” page. School councils are required to submit an annual report to the BOE each year. Keith Everson, assistant superintendent for human resources and support services, said he will provide recommendations to the board on the school council’s recommendations at a later date.
• approved revised job descriptions for elementary, middle and high school counselors.
• recognized the local winners of the Georgia Young Authors contest, the system-wide spelling bee, and athletes from East Jackson Comprehensive High School and Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
• approved items for surplus to be sold or disposed.
• learned that East Jackson Elementary School had the highest attendance last month.