By LYDIA BERGLAR
The main topics covered at the Nov. 14 Dade County Board of Education meeting were funding sources, how funds have been/can be used, building and facilities improvement needs throughout the school system, discussion about the Davis Elementary building, and a vote by the board on all new construction which included Davis.
If you wish to view all numbers, charts, stats, and documents (as many were covered), the livestream of the meeting is available on the KWN New Now Facebook page.
Many teachers and parents from Davis Elementary, as well as residents of the Davis community, attended the meeting, leading to standing-room only.
Before diving into financial matters and facilities discussions, Josh Ingle (superintendent) noted the character word of the month, “gratitude” and listed the students and staff who exemplified grateful attitudes.
The board then recognized Davis Elementary for receiving a Title I Distinguished School award from the Georgia Department of Education. Principal Charity Barton accepted the award on behalf of the school.
According to the press release included in the DCS Weekly Update email on Nov. 7 and repeated by Ingle at the meeting, “The Title I Distinguished Schools includes those that have the highest achievement rate based on combined ELA and Math scores on the annual Georgia Milestones End of Grade Assessments. A Title I Distinguished School is also among the top 5% of the Title I schools in the state of Georgia.”
After the monthly financial report and several other minor items, Ingle led the facilities discussion. He thoroughly explained the school system’s three main sources of revenue: General Fund (from the state and local taxes), Special Revenue (from federal funding), and ESPLOST.
Ingle noted, “You’re going to hear me say the term ‘need.’ It’s not what I think we need or what you all think we need. It’s the needs outlined in our Capital Outlay Plan.”
As he explained later in the meeting, every five years, a team from the state comes to review all facilities to produce a Capital Outlay Plan. Through this plan, the school system is eligible to receive state funding. Ingle noted that in following these plans, the high school went through renovation, the middle school recently went through renovation, and therefore, the elementary schools are next on the list.
“Both of our elementary schools require the most needs as far as our Capital Outlay Plan,” he said. “Are there other projects needed throughout the district? Absolutely. But if they are not in our plan and eligible for reimbursement and Capital Outlay Funding, the cost is picked up by the local district.”
Regarding the General Fund, state funds are allocated based on Full-Time Equivalent students (FTEs). Ingle reported the Oct. 2022 FTE number of 1,935 (across all four schools in the county).
Later in the report, Ingle returned to FTEs, explaining that the prediction by state officials (made by looking at the previous five-years) is decreasing at the rate of 19 students per year.
Ingle then explained that the state Education Equalization Funding Grant is based on property wealth. “The state ranks all districts from poorest to wealthiest. Based on our property wealth, we’re always on the bubble in terms of [whether] we get equalization money or not.”
He reported that the 65 wealthiest districts do not qualify for the grant, but this year, Dade County was 66 so we are receiving $79,566. Last year, we received $465,000. The year before that, we received $332,000. The year before that, we received $0.
Regarding Special Revenue, Ingle reported that this is federal funds for Title I, Title II, and Title IV and CARES funding. He reported that by shifting some salaries to federal fund buckets, the board has lowered the millage rate which helps to increase chances of getting equalization funds.
CARES will end in 2024, and therefore, some of the positions that were funded federally will shift back to General Fund buckets.
Regarding the third funding source, Ingle reported that the school system is currently spending ESPOLT – V before they can spend ESPLOST – VI.
Ingle covered the wording of both SPLOSTs. Notably, part of the wording in both is “(i) demolishing, adding to, renovating, repairing, improving, equipping and furnishing existing school buildings or other buildings or facilities useful or desirable in connection therewith including, but not limited to, HVAC, roofing, electrical, paving, fencing, cafeterias, and flooring.”
The first tax had a cap of $11 million while the second has a cap of $16 million. In Ingle’s words, “The biggest difference is that the SPLOST VI referendum allows the board to approve selling bonds up to $10 million.” These bonds must be paid back within the SPLOST time frame.
He displayed the breakdown of how ESPLOST – V funds were used based on each facility.
Carolyn Bradford (chair and Lookout Mountain District representative) asked if Head Start programs are federally funded. Ingle responded that they are not.
During the Public Input section, four citizens spoke. Several excerpts from these speeches include:
Dusty York: “I am an employee of the state of Tennessee in higher education…when we earmark something for a specific project, we don’t get to go in and reallocate those funds. That may be different here at the K-12 level…the property at Davis was neglected to the point that it was condemned. This could have potentially been prevented.”
Joshua Parham: “I think, on both sides of this debate, we would say we wish we had never torn it down. I want to be fair to all parties here…I don’t understand the budgets like you do, Mr. Ingle or any other member of the board…It was torn down on the command of this body. If it were me who tore it down, I feel like it would be me to fix the problem.”
John Davidson: “I was at the April meeting this year. I was told we’re all on the same page, we’re going to build it back.” Davidson also brought up his understanding of a deal made between the county (led by Larry Moore) and the school system decades ago. Daniel Case (North Dade District representative) and John Warren (Trenton District representative) clarified this question after the Public Input section. (See below.)
Phillip Hartline: “In 2018-2019, y’all collected $2.6 million in SPLOST. In the last calendar year, y’all collected $3.2 million. In 2017-2018, y’all were averaging $168,000 a month. The last four months, y’all have averaged $312,000…You said you’ve not spent all of our SPLOST V, and you’re collecting SPLOST VI…The money’s there. It’s the want to…A multi-purpose building will serve 25% of the students in the school system. It’s not for all the kids…Sand Mountain had to give up part of New Home Road to make North Dade have enough population to carry the voting districts.”
During the Action Items section, much discussion between school board members as well as addresses to the citizen observers ensued.
Case returned to Davidson’s question about the county-school board land swap. Warren reported that the official document set up between the county and the school system was a 50-year contract to rent the property for one dollar a year because the school system did not have the money at the time to purchase the property. At the end of those 50 years, the land would return to the county’s possession.
Case said, “We do have to consider the other 75% of the taxpayers that aren’t represented here tonight…If you talk to a lot of builders right now, material costs are coming down. This may be a six-month wait. It could be a year. When you talk about saving the taxpayers $2 million, it would be irresponsible of us to let the quarter dictate how everybody else’s tax dollars are spent…I think Davis school absolutely has to be rebuilt…What we’re proposing is waiting a short time…We’ve still gotta maintain three other schools.”
Warren addressed the proposed solution of using bonds. “The thing with bonds, guess what? We don’t have any other pool to pull from, we’ve got to pay them back.” He noted the predictions that the recession will continue worsening, making bonds an unwise decision.
Jayne Griffin (At-Large representative) asked for confirmation that issues at Davis are being addressed now and that when the freeze on new construction is lifted, Davis will be first priority. The rest of the board confirmed this. “I just want to make sure that we are clear, that I am clear. We are addressing the immediate needs. We know that Miss Barton has a list of priorities that she has submitted and those are being addressed immediately.”
Jennifer Hartline (Sand Mountain District representative) brought up growth regarding construction and real estate. She sent the Sentinel this information: “I’m a realtor and a member of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, Inc. This is all data that I searched and narrowed specifically to Dade County through our MLS (Multiple Listing Service). Unfortunately, our tax office runs approximately a year behind. Dade Co Single Family Housing Sales (not including private/off market sales):
- 2018: 264 SOLD (6 were New Construction)
- 2019: 126 SOLD (3 were New Construction)
- 2020: 157 SOLD (10 were New Construction)
- 2021: 201 SOLD (15 were New Construction)
- 2022 up to Nov. 13: 181 SOLD (14 were New Construction)
- Currently Pending or Contingent: 19”
Bradford addressed the multi-purpose building, saying, “That multi-purpose building has been on that SPLOST for more than one term and we haven’t done the multi-purpose building. We don’t even have a drawing or plans.”
The board voted to postpone all new construction. Five voted in favor; Hartline voted against.