May 1, 2012

Whitfield school officials hold first ESPLOST meeting today

Dalton continues talks on interacting with public

Rachel Brown

— The first of five meetings for members of the public to hear from Whitfield County Schools officials about their money needs and constraints is today.

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at Westside Middle School and will last about an hour. Attendees will get an overview of the general budget that funds teacher salaries, classroom supplies and other day-to-day expenses, as well as some detail on a 1 percent sales tax officials want voters to approve to pay off debt, repair school buildings and fund other projects.

The proposed Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST), which voters will approve or reject July 31, is expected to raise $105 million over five years with $68.7 million going to Whitfield County Schools and the rest to Dalton Public Schools.

Attendees will also receive the “WCS Fact Sheet” handout which includes two pages of details about property tax rates, spending per student and projects in several local schools that officials said are “critical needs,” such as tying Tunnel Hill Elementary School in to city sewer lines.

Whitfield Board of Education Chairman Louis Fordham said he met with Dalton Tea Party members recently and presented them with the handout.

“They asked good, challenging questions, but they really liked the detail (in the handout),” he said.

Dalton Board of Education members met for six hours of training on Monday, most of which centered on ways to educate and listen to members of the public in an effort to improve the school system.

The state-mandated training cost about $2,900, officials said, and almost all of that was to pay The Schlechty Center trainer. Board members discussed Jamie Vollmer’s book, “Schools Cannot Do It Alone: Building Public Support for America’s Public Schools,” and board member Mark Orr said he wishes everyone in the community would read it.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to engage the community,” said Board Chairman Danny Crutchfield. “(School) is different (than it was when parents of today’s students were attending). Our community is different, and the schools are different, and we can’t just assume that people are with us.”

Training facilitator George Thompson said a common mistake by school officials is to make major decisions first and only later try to convince people to embrace them. A better way, he said, is to involve everyone in the decisions from the outset and listen to their feedback.

Superintendent Jim Hawkins said the district hopes to invite Vollmer to speak to the community at some point soon as well as find ways to take information about the school system to members of the public in small groups rather than only asking community members to come to board meetings or other formal gatherings they may not be comfortable coming to.

“Even though our community wants to help, they don’t understand a lot of the current issues, they don’t understand the complexities,” Hawkins added. “... Part of the problem is everybody’s got a different picture of what the perfect real school looks like.”