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Sumter County Board of Education votes on leadership and offers no further discussion on high school name

Sumter County Board of Education (BOE) met for their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, January 14, 2021. To open the meeting, Sumter County resident, Herschel Smith addressed the BOE on the high school name. He addressed what he refers to as a “parliamentary maneuver to avoid a final vote.” In addressing the BOE, he pointed out the appropriate way to put voting on the name on the agenda for the evening. However, the BOE chose not to follow Smith’s suggestion and kept the item as a non-voting action. When time came for the discussion to continue between the members on the high school name, the members remained silent on the issue and ultimately moved on to other business of the evening.

With Dr. Torrance Choates leading the procedure, the BOE determined Rick Barnes will serve as chair of the board for the upcoming year. Jim Reid nominated Barnes and he received 5 votes, with Abbis Bivins voting for another candidate and Barnes withholding his vote. Bivins nominated Patricia Harris for the position and she received Bivin’s vote for the position. Barnes then held the nomination process for the vice chair position. Vincent Kearse nominated Carolyn Hamilton and Bivins once again nominated Harris for the position. Carolyn Hamilton received 6 votes, with Bivins voting for Patricia Harris, who received one vote. Barnes will move into the chair position after serving as the vice chair and Hamilton, a newly elected member, will move into the vice chairman position.

The board then addressed other business items to include legal representation and legal organ. Consistent with last years’ providers, the BOE will use Harben, Hartley and Hawkins, a firm located in Gainesville, Georgia who specializes in serving Boards of Education. To represent the BOE locally, Gatewood, Skipper and Rambo will be utilized. To serve as the legal organ for the BOE, the Americus Times-Recorder will continue to provide the service.

With first of year business handled, the BOE moved on to action items on the agenda. The financial documents were unanimously approved to be accepted by the board. Personnel items were also approved with one release from contract, two resignations, one new employee, two Family Medical Leave Act and one third party contract accepted. The property committee’s recommendations where also unanimously accepted. A bus lift will be designated as surplus and sold, auditorium seating option determined, buses to be outfitted with GPS equipment and a letter of commitment will be drafted for Southern Educational Supply to provide needed equipment for the CTAE and Ignite College and Career Academy.

The 2021 Calendar was addressed, and minor changes will be made. It was also announced the school system will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday, January 18th. Next month’s work session will take place on 2/8 at 6pm and the regular meeting will be held on 2/11 at 7pm. This meeting as well as all the virtual meetings can be viewed on the Sumter County Schools’ Facebook page.

To contact a BOE member, please visit www.sumterschools.org. District 1 is represented by Abbis Bivins, District 2 is represented by Patricia Harris, District 3 is served by Jim Reid, the 4th district is served by Rick Barnes, District 5 member is Carolyn Hamilton, Vincent Kearse represents District 6 and Sylvia Roland serves District 7.

Herschel Smith’s presentation was as follows:

“Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight. I appreciated the opportunity to speak to you last Monday and I hope the packet of information that I distributed was helpful. The late John Lewis said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up, you have to do something.” I believe that with all my heart and that is why I am here again, asking for a final vote on the high school name. I am following a long line of community leaders who have appeared before this school board over the last 18 months asking you to keep “Americus” in the name of the high school. These community leaders requests for action has been ignored, delayed, but never voted on. Last February after Mayor Blount’s plea for action, the name change was briefly discussed but no action was taken because it was not specifically listed on the agenda for a vote, just like tonight. This is a parliamentary maneuver to avoid a final vote. We’ve seen it done here before. Don’t be fooled again. The citizens of our county deserve a vote and to know where their school board representative stands on this critical issue. This evening’s agenda once again is not clear about the requirement of a vote tonight on the high school name. I urge you to amend Item VII “Old Business” to include “discuss and vote tonight on renaming of the new high school”. This must be done before approving tonight’s agenda (Item V), “Adoption of Agenda”. I think, we all think, it is high time that this name change issue be laid to rest tonight. I ask you to vote for the economy and job growth of this community, I ask you to vote for support of our schools. I ask you to vote for our students. I ask you to vote tonight for Americus Sumter High School. I say again, Americus Sumter High School!”