District 7 Town Hall Meeting (Chatham County, GA)

On March 14, 2017 at New Hampstead High School, I held my very first Town Hall Meeting to talk about the Superintendent Search, FY 2018 Budget, how ESPLOST III will affect West Chatham Schools, and took questions from the audience.

Searching for a new Superintendent is one of the most important duties of any School Board. In my last blog, I outlined the timeline for the search (click here to read blog). I was able to give those who were in attendance an overview of what we have already done and what we still have left to do:

  • We have hired a consulting firm to help facilitate the search. – Ray and Associates
  • In February, we completed the candidate search criteria. Input was received from all of the members of the Board, the current Superintendent’s Cabinet, and the community.
  • During the first part of March, the search firm developed a candidate profile that came from the input from the community, cabinet, and Board Members.
  • Ray and Associates is currently recruiting and screening the candidates. Candidates have until mid-April to have their applications in for consideration. The search firm will determine those candidates that are the most qualified based on the established search criteria.
  • Interviews will be done in late April/early May.

I want everyone to know that I am confident we will be able to announce our pick for the next Superintendent of the Savannah – Chatham County Public School System by mid-May.

The Budget discussion was very informative for the parents so they can understand that we are striving to keep taxes as low as possible while providing a World Class Education to ALL Savannah-Chatham County students. Here are some of the highlights:

  • There is a fear that the State is going to continue to cut funding while adding additional mandates on local Boards. Depending on how everything unfolds, this could leave a gap of $12 million dollars between what the State mandates the district to do and the funding the district receives.
  • It looks as if we are going to receive more than expected funds from local property taxes due to an increase in the local real estate market!
  • The Superintendent’s Office as well as the Budget Committee is looking to find ways to provide teachers across the school system a 2% pay increase.

A huge step forward in providing the best education for the 38,000+ students we teach is to receive the money already allocated to Local Boards in the State Budget that has not been paid in over 30 years. To help make this happen, everyone needs to contact their State Representatives, State Senators, and the Governor’s Office to tell them (click here to find the contact information of the elected officials that represent Chatham County in Atlanta) that they need to fully fund the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula (click here to learn more about QBE in Georgia). I am not saying money fixes everything. What I am saying is that we, the tax payers, should expect the General Assembly to provide quality basic education as stated in the Georgia State Constitution.

The ESPLOST III project that I am most looking forward to having completed is the addition of a NEW K-8 School on the New Hampstead Campus. This new school will be large enough to teach 1,200 students, relieve the overcrowding at other Elementary and K-8 Schools in West Chatham, and the best part…the district already owns the land so we will not have to buy additional property for the new school!

During the question and answer portion of the Town Hall, parents asked questions about everything from the district website to transportation issues to School Year Calendar to the Superintendent Search.

  • District Website – Parents and members of the community still feel that the website is not user friendly. Kurt Hetager, Chief Public Affairs Officer, informed everyone the website is constantly being worked on and the school district is making it more user friendly while following all laws.
  • Transportation – Now that SCCPSS is in control of transporting our students, there is no one to blame but ourselves, which is a good thing. One mother asked what the issues were with buses still being late, was it an equipment issue or do we not have enough drivers? The short answer is that we do not have enough bus drivers. We have increased the hourly rate for our bus drivers to be more competitive in the area. Our drivers now make more than any other school district out of the counties that touch Chatham County, including in South Carolina!
  • School Year Calendar – One father asked why we had Spring Break different from neighboring counties. He felt that it interfered with athletics and extracurricular activities when the students want to go on vacation. It was explained that the break was scheduled to ensure students had enough time once back to get ready for the Spring testing.
  • Superintendent Search – The one question that gets asked the most was asked once again: Is the Board considering only internal candidates or are they only considering external candidates? For me, it does not matter if the new Superintendent is already employed by the District or comes from 3000 miles away, I want to have the BEST qualified person for our children running the day to day operations of the school district. I am excited to see who the consulting firm narrows the list to for interviews.

Everyone in attendance was respectful and there was very meaningful dialog between the parents, district staff and Board members (Mr. Larry Lower, District 6, was there as the Chairman of the Budget Committee).

I would like to thank again the staff of New Hampstead High School, the Superintendent, the Cabinet, and all the parents and community leaders that came out to the Town Hall. We even received some media attention, click here for WTOC’s coverage of the town hall.

Michael Johnson serves as the Savannah-Chatham County Public School 7th District School Board Member and Buyer Agent for The Johnson Team with Keller Williams Realty Coastal Area Partners.

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