September 28, 2020

Heard County School Superintendent addresses upcoming SPLOST referendum

Brave Nation:

We have seen another 136 students graduate from the Brave Nation, and we are gearing up for another great year.

I want to take a moment and make you aware of some very exciting things that are going on in our school system.

But before I dive into the projects that we have going on I want to take a moment and say THANK YOU. Thank you for your support of SPLOST in the past! 

Because of SPLOST (Special Purpose local Option Sales Tax) we have been able to do some incredible things here in the Brave Nation: New facilities, upgrades to existing facilities, technology, technology software programs, and school buses just to name a few. 

SPLOST has served our children well in Heard County. It is time for our community to show its support for SPLOST once again. Our current SPLOST will expire in December of 2022.

In March of 2021 our community will have the opportunity to vote and extend our SPLOST referendum for another five years.

Our school system administrators and your local Board of Education take the stewardship of those funds very seriously, and we want to say thank you for your investment in education.

When we think of SPLOST many times our attention goes directly to something new being built, but I want to draw your attention to something else. Maintenance and upkeep of what we have been blessed with is paramount! 

Over the past 15 years Heard County Schools has been blessed with some of the nicest facilities around, and it is our job to maintain those facilities now. Here is a breakdown of the scheduled replacement or upkeep of SPLOST purchases from the past.

Student Transportation:  Heard County Schools receive no money from the state for the replacement/purchasing of school buses. Your SPLOST dollars have been paying for the replacement of all 26 of our buses since 2017 and the total cost of that investment was $ 2.5 million.

Maintenance/Transportation Vehicles:  The School System provides its transportation and maintenance department with vehicles. Those vehicles have either been replaced or are scheduled to be replaced during this upcoming SPLOST cycle. The total on those replacement vehicles will be around $200,000. These vehicles have served us well as most of them are or were approaching three hundred thousand miles and 15 years of service.

Technology for students: With the last SPLOST Heard County Schools was able to implement a 1:1 environment for children in grades 2-12, giving every child their own individual Chromebook,  and a pod of five Chromebook devices was installed in each K-1 classroom. The initial cost of this investment was absorbed during the current SPLOST. During the new SPLOST we have budgeted to replace the existing Chromebooks in 3-year cycles. The total replacement of the Chromebook project will take 3 years and the price tag will be $1 million dollars. 

Technology Software:  SPLOST is also utilized to purchase various software programs that are used to help run the day to day operations of the system and are also embedded in classroom instruction for children. Perhaps you have heard of some of these resources provided for your child: Accelerated Reader, BrainPop, Handwriting Practice Workbooks, ED Galaxy, Flocabulary, GO Math, IXL, MobyMax, MyON Digital Library, NewsELA, OdysseyWare Virtual School/Credit Recovery Software, Reading A to Z, Read 180, USA Test Prep, and many others have a yearly subscription total of close to $250,000. Another piece of software which is mission critical for a goal of authentic student engagement is a program called GO Guardian. This software gives teachers and schools the ability to “lockdown” certain websites, allows teachers to block internet access if needed to ensure students are engaged in class rather than browsing the web. The subscription for GO Guardian is $45,000.  

Technology Hardware:  SPLOST is also being used to purchase computers throughout the school system. During this new SPLOST the school system will be replacing teacher desktops/laptops in all schools. The replacement project will occur over a 3-year period and will cost the system in the neighborhood of $750,000. Another piece of hardware utilized on a daily basis by teachers in the Heard County School System is what is known as an interactive whiteboard, also known as a SmartBoard. The oldest SmartBoards in our school system are close to 15 years old and like all things, their lifespan is not forever. During this SPLOST we will begin our replacement cycle of those boards (25 per year). Those boards will be replaced by Interactive Flat Panels. The total cost of replacing the boards throughout the entire school system will be close to $1 million.

HVAC Units:  As our “new” schools begin to age it will be necessary to include in our budget the cost of replacing our AC Units. The cost of replacement bard units over the life of this SPLOST cycle has been budgeted at $250,000.

Just to be clear, these are the expenses over the next 5 years that are needed just to simply MAINTAIN WHAT WE HAVE BEEN BLESSED WITH. 

Over the next 5 years we will spend between $6 million and $7 million on this maintaining process. 

All of the projects listed above would not happen without the SPLOST, so once again, we say thank you for investing in education! We are dedicated to continue to provide each and every student all of the resources they need to excel.

Now that you see what comes straight off the top let me tell you about a couple of projects that are new:

Facility Additions/Upgrades:  The previous SPLOST enabled us to repave parking lots at Centralhatchee and Ephesus Elementary Schools. These types of facility maintenance projects will be taken care of with the approval of the new SPLOST.

School Safety:  I thought it appropriate to share with you the actions that have been taken by the Heard County Board of Education and system leaders to improve school safety for the students of Heard County. As a citizen of Heard County, I take great pride in our community. We have a community in which most of us know each other by name and consider ourselves friends. We like to think that we are immune from anything too terribly bad happening here. I believe that feeling of comfort can create complacency which can be our biggest threat. Our school system has been very intentional in regard to the safety of our children.

The first order of business has been to build a great working relationship with our first responders in the community. Sheriff Ross Henry, Chief Kevin Hannah, and Chief Wirth have been excellent partners.

Together with school and system administrators we have developed plans and protocols that cover almost every possible scenario. Our first responders have used our schools to perform drills on non-school days and are very familiar with the layout of each school. 

Our board of education has approved the investment of several facility improvements to enhance safety.

Each Heard County School has a security door that separates the main office from the classroom sections of the building. This prevents someone coming through the front doors and immediately gaining access to the students.

Parents are always welcome in our schools, however it’s imperative that they check-in at the office and are buzzed through the security doors after they have signed in.

Our schools with the longest response time potential will be equipped with the SHIELD Lockdown System. The system compartmentalizes the school, notifies everyone in the building to lockdown and directly notifies law enforcement of the SHIELD activation as well as 9-1-1.  All this occurs in 4 to 6 seconds.

Another important investment has been made to upgrade the camera systems at all Heard County Schools.  

Since the 2018-2019 school year began, Heard County Schools, working in conjunction with the Heard County Sheriff’s Department, has employed an armed School Resource Officer.

The main function of this position has been to protect our students and help them to feel safe and secure in our schools.

The School Resource Officer has worked to build positive relationships with students, staff, and the community in order to address issues that might negatively impact our schools

The past three years the school system has worked cooperatively through a grant with Willowbrooke of Tanner to provide additional mental health professionals in our schools.

In addition to our already established school counselors, school psychologist, and school nurse positions, Willowbrooke has provided an additional layer of services to help students who needed more intensive mental health services. We will continue this partnership with Willowbrooke of Tanner.

We will continue to engage in a Plan-Do-Check-Act process when it comes to school safety. The balance of maintaining a safe environment while protecting the instructional time can be difficult at times. However, we understand first and foremost that when a parent sends their child to school in the morning, they expect to have their child safely returned to them each afternoon.

I want to assure the community that the system and the board of education share in this expectation and take the safety of our children very seriously.       

Fine Arts/Gymnasium Project:  On the campus of Heard County High School we are constructing a multi-purpose building. The multi-purpose building will be a “performance only” facility which will serve as a fine arts performance center and a gymnasium. The two facilities will exist under one roof, and construction is well under way! We are hoping the new structure will generate more interest in the theater and fine arts from our students in grades K-12.  We look forward to opening the doors to this facility to the public at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. The price tag for the facility, which will be known as the “G-PAC” (Gym-Performing Arts Center), will be just under 18 million dollars. During the upcoming SPLOST the Heard County School System will service the debt occurred from the construction of this facility. The committed amount of SPLOST dollars to service this debt will be 10.7 million dollars over the five year period.

QUICK FACTS:

  • 42% of all SPLOST funds in Heard County are generated from our local power companies

  • $6-7 million of our SPLOST is used every 5 years to upkeep what we already have

  • SPLOST cannot be used to pay anyone’s salary and it cannot be used for routine maintenance of facilities

I apologize for the long read, but as I began to think about ways to put this into smaller parts there just wasn’t a way to accomplish that task. I sincerely hope what you take away is the following:

  • We greatly appreciate your support for our school system and our children

  • We would not be able to maintain our current educational system without the SPLOST.  Things that the Brave Nation have come to appreciate and expect would have to be done away with were it not for our community’s support of our SPLOST

  • Our school system cares about all programs and wishes for them all to be something our community can take pride in

Thank you for being a wonderful support system for our children, and I would like to personally thank the Board of Education for their collaborative spirit and willingness to work for the betterment of our children’s educational experience.

Respectfully,

Rodney Kay

Superintendent of the Heard County School System

Comments

  1. Judy Miller says

    That is an amazingly detailed and greatly appreciated effort to keep our community informed about public education in Heard County! Thanks Mr. Kay!

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