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New high school to be named Sumter County High and no holiday on Veterans Day

By:  Ken Gustafson

AMERICUS – At the Sumter County Board of Education’s monthly board meeting on Thursday, February 13, board member Meda Krenson made a motion to revisit the discussion on giving the new high school to be built across the street from South Georgia Tech the same name that the current one has: Americus-Sumter High School.

At the SCBOE’s monthly work session on Monday, February 10, Americus Mayor Barry Blount, a 1973 graduate of the former Americus High School, made his case to the board why the new school should keep Americus in its name. During the work session, Krenson suggested that more discussion on the naming of the new high school be added to the SCBOE’s agenda at its February board meeting Thursday night. Board Chairman Dr. Michael Busman was not present at Thursday’s board meeting.

After Krenson had made her motion to revisit the naming issue at Thursday’s board meeting, board member Sylvia Roland seconded the motion. After SCBOE Vice Chairman Rick Barnes asked if there was any discussion to be had on the matter, Krenson stated that the SCBOE has been hearing feedback from the community on both sides of the issue. “My first concern about taking Americus out of the name was there are four Sumter Counties in the United States and three of them surround Georgia,” Krenson said. She went on to say that unless a person trained his or her computer to look up the Sumter County in Georgia, the computer would bring up the Sumter Counties in Florida or South Carolina first. “That could hinder us a little bit on economic development or getting the word out about us,” Krenson said.

She went on to say that the SCBOE usually does what is best for the kids in school and not for the adults. “When we named the College and Career Academy, we involved the students and had contests and they had marketing projects and we chose a winner,” Krenson said. “I’m talking about our current students who have been used to this school being named Americus-Sumter County for about 16 years now.”

Krenson’s other concern was with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). “Some of the board members weren’t on the board when we were having to get reapproved by SACS and one of our domains that we had to work on improving was communicating with and listening to our stake holders,” She said. “I feel like perhaps we should have done a little bit more of that before we came to the decision.” The decision that Krenson was referring to was actually made at the SCBOE’s board meeting back on Thursday, December 13, 2018. At that meeting, a motion was made by SCBOE Vice Chairman Rick Barnes and seconded by Board Member Alice Green to name the new high school Sumter County High School. A vote was taken and the SCBOE voted unanimously to do just that. According to published reports, at that December 2018 meeting, Sumter County Schools Superintendent Torrance Choates stated that it’s a good idea to keep the colors and the mascot of the current high school.

“The decision was based on the fact that we thought we were unifying the county, but it appears we’ve caused even more dissention with this decision,” Krenson said.

She finished by saying that sense the SCBOE has heard from both sides, why not keep both names, making it a “win-win” situation.

Barnes mentioned the fact that the board had voted unanimously to name the new school Sumter County High School back on December 13, 2018. “You’re talking about the unifying of Sumter County. The one entity that I think has done it is One Sumter,” Barnes said. “They have brought together every municipality, every body in the county as one organization and they have moved this county forward further than I have ever seen it move in a short period of time.” Barnes went on to say that because of the work of One Sumter, the county will have a College and Career Academy and the SCBOE has also greatly benefited from the efforts of One Sumter.

He added that the community as a whole, as far as economic development and quality of life, has greatly benefited from One Sumter.

“As I sit here, I’m the lone graduate of Americus High School…can’t take that from me,” Barnes said. However, Barnes referred to Mayor Blount’s statement Tuesday evening that the word Panther can’t be spelled without an A with his own rebuttal. “You can’t get the group of people that I lump together without putting an S on the end cause we’re all Panthers,” Barnes said. “I bleed blue. Started in 1977 bleeding blue. You can’t take that from me. We put this school system together in 94 when Americus gave up its charter. It just so happened that the diploma that I had that said Americus High School on it went underwater in the flood of 94. Does that mean anything to me? No, because I know got it and I know I’m a Panther and I know I’m part of a bigger community called Panthers.” Barnes continued by saying that it doesn’t matter to him that it is not Americus anymore because the idea of being a Panther cannot be taken away from him. “That’s where I stand on it,” Barnes said.

With that, Barnes asked if there was a motion, but the other board members said that the issue has already been voted on and revisited. Therefore, there was no need for a motion. After the meeting, Choates told the Americus Times-Recorder that the decision has already been made to name the new high school Sumter County High School.

As far as other agendas at the meeting, Board member Sylvia Roland stated that the Curriculum Committee has recommended that the SCBOE accept the 2021 Calendar Option C with one change: to have school on Veterans Day and to dismiss one day early for Winter Break or Christmas holidays. The recommendation was voted on and it passed unanimously.

Board member Jim Reid took the time to share with his fellow board members and those who were in attendance how strong the Sumter County School System is financially. Reid stated that when the current school board took over, there was $1.8 million in the general fund, but as of Thursday evening, that amount had soared to well over $14 million.

“The school year is 58 percent complete,” Reid said. He went on to say that the school system has received 58 percent of the revenue, but in seven months, over $24 million should have been spent. Reid continued by stating that as a result of that spending, the school system is $4.5 million under budget at the seventh month of the school year. “Now this budget that we are operating under for the third year in a row was a balanced budget without having to take funds from the general fund, nor have we raised taxes the last three years,” Reid said. Reid went on to say that the reason for this fiscal success is due to the strong financial management by the current SCBOE, as well as the leadership of Dr. Choates and the fiscal responsibility of Sumter County Schools Financial Director Natacha Merritt.

“At this point in time, as Dr. Choates has alluded, our funds were $366,000.00 for the month of January, but more importantly, that gives us a $321,000.00 rolling average of sales tax funds collected,” Reid said. “What is important about that is that when we budgeted for the new high school, we budgeted based on only $300,000.00.”

Reid went on to say that included in that budget for the new high school was all new signings. “We’re going to have to put up a sign, so all this deal about buying new signs is nothing but a straw man,” Reid said. “Every three or four years, we buy uniforms. When it comes time to buy new uniforms, we will use the new logo not until then so there will be no additional expense for buying a new uniform.”

Reid went on to say that when the current school board took over, there was only $180,000.00 in the lunchroom checking account, but that amount has since soared to $1.2 million under the control and supervision of the current SCBOE, Dr. Choates and Financial Director Natacha Merritt. “We are perfectly competent of calculating all of the costs of naming a school system,” Reid said.

With that, Reid recommended that the SCBOE approve the Financial Report, the Accounts Payable for January 2020 and the Preliminary Cash Flow. Vice Chairman Barnes asked the board members who was in favor of approving all three of those items and the SCBOE voted unanimously to approve all three items.