Sumter County Board of Education discusses voting items, legal action and rental rates

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, April 6, 2021

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Having spent about 4 hours in work session, the Sumter County Board of Education (BOE) spent most of the evening speaking on items which will not be included in the regular meeting on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Presentations took up a significant amount of time, with the BOE hearing from several employees as well as partners. Included in the presentation was a construction update from Parrish Construction, an update on utility costs, a presentation from a work-based learning program which has been recommended by the Sumter County Development Authority, Great Promise Partnership, a property update from Kimothy Hadley, a curriculum update from Mr. Knighton, a back-to-school restart plan from Dr. Choates and an update on Georgia Milestone Testing.

Moving on to committee reports and recommendations, it was determined there would be action needed by the finance committee, property committee, personnel committee and technology committee. The finance committee conversation brought up a lengthy discussion. The financial health of the school system is good, however, Abbis Bivins questioned why her name was included in the March reports. After a review of the expenditures, Jim Reid asked if she preferred he address it in open session. She responded she would. Chairman Rick Barnes took the lead in letting Bivins know the BOE had to hire lawyers in response to legal action she took against the school system some time ago. Barnes explained to Bivins the legal action she took against the school resulted in the school having to hire attorneys to address it. Bivins wanted it made clear she never filed a lawsuit but filed a petition. Barnes, again, stated the school system had to address it, and in addressing it, incurred a fee. Bivins continued to question the charge. Barnes explained how the school system is required to “address any concern brought against it.” Barnes explained this to Bivins a total of 10 times. In her continuing questioning, Jim Reid also tried, three times, to explain why a legal action against the school would require a response. In the end, Bivins’ response was, “I hear you, but I still don’t understand.” Bivins then requested to see all the paperwork associated with the charge. In addition to voting on committee recommendations, the BOE will vote on utilizing Great Promise Partnership and Fresh Start, an alternative education option.

The other topic drawing much conversation was reconsidering the charges Dwight Harris incurs to complete his basketball camp. Harris is utilizing school property for his private, for-profit basketball events. The Sumter County Schools has negotiated a rate for the use of the property to cover such costs as utilities. Carolyn Hamilton wants the BOE to review the agreement and consider lowering the rate because Harris is having to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines and therefore isn’t making as much money as he was prior to the virus. When trying to determine the loss, Hamilton, nor any other BOE member, was able to identify any actual loss. Reid and Barnes explained the history on how the rate had been determined. Reid explained the BOE should consider ethical issues when agreeing to spend tax dollars that are not directly tied to the education of a student. As a taxing entity, it is expected funds spent will be done so for educational reasons only. Reid warned of “setting precedence” in this area and mentioned it could be opening the BOE up for a lawsuit. Hamilton then made clear she wasn’t looking to alleviate the entire costs, only give Harris a break on the rate he incurs during these COVID-19 times. She argued that giving to the community was a value the school should be investing in. She suggested lowering the costs of the facility from $6,000 to $4,000. Further investigation into the situation will be completed.

This meeting was transmitted over Facebook and can be found on the Sumter County Schools’ page. The voting meeting will take place on Thursday April 8,2021 at 7pm and will also be transmitted on Facebook.