School Board candidate Key: Schools face big financial troubles

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The Fayette County School System is facing several serious issues in the coming months: fiscal issues, superintendent recruitment issues, and distance learning issues.

First, let’s look at the fiscal issues. Fiscal responsibility is paramount to the system’s success and the Board of Education has ultimate fiduciary responsibility for all system tax funds. Did you know …

• The current SPLOST (before Covid-19) was anticipated to yield a maximum of $145 million over a five-year period (April 2019 – March 2024).

Anticipated expenditures from SPLOST funds include the following:

1. The bond floated to pay for the addition at McIntosh and the auditorium at Fayette High — $25 million plus interest.

2. The cost of the modernization of the current Booth Middle School — $13 million (This process must be completed before the students move into the new school in order to receive approximately $6 million in state funds.)

3. Expenses for safety, technology, buses, textbooks, etc.

Another item, the replacement for Booth Middle School, was not mentioned in the SPLOST documents. Yet, this school board, under my opponent’s leadership as chair, voted to use $46 million of SPLOST funds to construct this new school.

In the early 2000s, the Cobb County School System tried to spend money on computers not mentioned in their SPLOST referendum and were taken to court. The system was not allowed to buy the computers.

The impact of Covid-19 challenges the expected SPLOST collection due to the reduced tax revenue. Consequently, the deficit of SPLOST funds could result in monies being deducted from the operating budget. Unfortunately, the operating budget will also suffer negative consequences because of reduced funding from federal, state and local sources.

How will the current board respond to the financial difficulties the school system will encounter? What budget items are they willing to sacrifice in order to barge full steam ahead into a building project that is not needed and will not enhance student learning?

One thing that I learned from being on the board during the last recession is that the board should not spend money on any unneeded schools nor on any other unnecessary projects — PERIOD!

Another important issue facing the school board is the selection of a new superintendent. Dr. Barrow is retiring June 30. The announced search criteria published by the board overlook some credentials I deem important. These include:

• experience as a superintendent in a system comparable in size and demographics as Fayette’s (although there is an experienced superintendent who may be available who does not fit this criteria).

• experience as a school level administrator

• experience as a classroom teacher of an academic subject

• undergraduate degree in an academic field

The third issue is that of online learning. Covid-19 has plunged the system into distance learning/teaching. Comments from teachers indicate that Fayette is better off than many systems, but lag behind systems such as Gwinnett.

Teachers need to be debriefed on how the learning process went. Their recommendations for using the digital learning/teaching process should form the basis for improving distance learning in case they have to implement it again in the near future.

Teachers should also be the driving force behind the evaluation of student mastery of content in this scenario. Fayette County School Administrators should take the lead in developing grade/subject level plans based on the teachers’ input. In other words, the digital learning program should be developed by those using it with guidance from the county office, rather than something forced on the users from above.

In addition, there needs to be a plan for dealing with the invariable technology issues, such as internet being down, computers not working, etc. Where will the money come from to upgrade hardware and software to meet the needs of distance learning? What plans have been made to deal with the fact that students have missed 9 weeks of school? Have teachers been involved in this planning? How will these plans be financed?

Please see my FaceBook page “Marion Key for Board of Education” for more discussion of these and other issues. Your questions and input are welcome.

Marion Key

Candidate for Post 3

Fayette County Board of Education

Fayetteville, Ga.

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