Forsyth County Schools leaders hope to work on student and staff safety, recruiting and retaining teachers and supporting state and local partnerships in the upcoming legislative session.
Director of Communications Jennifer Caracciolo presented a draft of the district’s 2022 legislative priorities at a Board of Education work session on Tuesday, Nov. 9, laying out what specific goals they may want to focus on in the coming year.
She said many of these goals are the same as the previous year, but there have been some additions added to the draft.
This includes a push to provide state funding for one school nurse per school in the state.
“We know, especially after everything that we’ve gone through this year with the pandemic, what’s been on a nurse’s plate, and those are locally-funded positions,” Caracciolo said.
With that in mind, she said the district would like to ask for state funding for those positions and encourage funding even after the pandemic is over as nurses in larger schools, such as those in Forsyth County, also face difficulties in their workload.
Another added priority would ask the state delegation to allow districts to hire retired educators into “high-need teaching positions.”
Caracciolo said the school district is still working to build up its foundation substitute teachers, “but if we were able to bring back our highly-qualified Forsyth retirees to come back into some special areas, that would just benefit our schools and also our students.”
District officials also asked that the draft include a push to state delegates to consider any Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act funding inequities while preparing the state budget next year.
Chief Financial Officer Larry Hammel, along with other district leaders, said earlier this year that the formula used to distribute state educational CARES Act funding was unfair, favoring schools that receive a higher amount in Title I funding.
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the largest federally funded educational program, provides extra funds to school districts to help close achievement gaps and increase equity within academics, especially supplying added resources and support to lower-income families.
Being in a more affluent community, less than 14% of Forsyth County Schools students qualify under Title I stipulations compared to the statewide average of 57%, according to the Georgia Department of Education.
This means that Title I funds received last year were allocated to districts where families have a greater need, leaving Forsyth County with about 0.41% of total state Title I funds. It also means, however, the district saw the same lack of coronavirus relief funding through the same Title I percentage-based formula required by federal law.
No other legislative priorities were added, and the draft will be presented to the Board of Education again on Tuesday, Nov. 16, for final approval.
Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden took a moment during the Board of Education’s work session Tuesday to thank Forsyth County voters for once again passing the Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or E-SPLOST.
Nearly 70% of voters in the county chose to continue the 1% sales tax during the Nov. 2 election. Bearden said this was a “huge number” compared to previous years, “especially in light of the fact there was some folks that were very vocally opposed to the SPLOST.”
He said it was one of the highest percentages they have seen in the history of FCS, and he believes it shows just how supportive citizens in Forsyth County are of the school district’s work.
“Our pledge is to use that funding, as is said in our goals, as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Bearden said. “We have a lot of work that needs to be done …. behind the scenes.”
The collected E-SPLOST, which is charged to anyone who purchases goods in Forsyth County regardless of where they live, will be used to pay for capital projects in FCS.
A new elementary school to serve as a replacement for Midway Elementary is among the list of capital projects. The school has faced overcrowding issues for several years due to a small student capacity, and because of its location near Highway 9, the school cannot be expanded.
Most of the other projects include upgrades, repairs and refreshers for older schools and equipment in the district. This includes furniture, technology, facilities and other supplies that need to be repaired or replaced in district schools and buildings.
The overall total cost of these projects is projected to be more than $264.7 million.
Unlike in previous years, however, district leaders said E-SPLOST funds should be able to cover all of these projects in the next five years without the need for another bond referendum.
“With SPLOST dollars, you’re not paying interest,” Bearden said. “It’s pay-as-you-go projects, which is really a smart way to take care of some much-needed enhancements in our school system. So thank you to the citizens of Forsyth County for once again supporting our school system.”