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Tuesday is RCS' budget day
• The cost of buying 35 new buses has not yet been added to the city school system's budget.

Lou Byars

Rome City Schools will hold two public hearings for its proposed fiscal year 2020 budget this week, which will not yet include any estimated transportation costs the school will see later on in the year.

The system is looking to pay an estimated $3.2 million for 35 new buses from one of several state-approved vendors Superintendent Lou Byars said Friday. The money will come from the school system's general fund, which has a balance of around $12 million.

The school system's fiscal year ends on June 30 and RCS will have an estimated balance of $12 million according to a recent audit, Byars said. The school system will take that ending fund balance and apply it as their beginning balance for 2020.

"Every year going back, if you look at our budget, we always for comparison purposes start with $3.2 (million) and generally that was close to being accurate," Byars said. "But the last few years we have actually been building our budget, and we didn't show it in that beginning number because that is not what they are voting on. They are voting on the actual revenues and expenditures."

The system is asking to increase its expenditures — or what they spend — to equal the amount of what their revenues are. This is how the school system is able to purchase 35 new school buses to meet the new need of a transportation infrastructure. The proposed 2020 budget shows estimated revenues to be $61.2 million, a 13.7% increase from 2019, and an estimated $62.3 million in expenditures, a 7.8% increase from the FY 2019 budget.

These numbers do not include any estimated transportation costs.

This estimated $3.2 million for the buses does not include the additional costs of hiring bus drivers or building a facility to house the buses, Byars said. The proposed budget can be amended when the system has a firmer grasp on what the actual cost will be.

"Instead of just putting a lump sum out there, now the state allows us anytime during the year to amend the budget," Byars said.

The city government and school system were made aware in February that because of a 2018 Georgia Department of Transportation audit, the 35-year contract allowing city buses to transport RCS students would come to an end.

Since then the two organizations have been working together to come up with a solution before the deadline of Aug. 1 with RCS electing to purchase buses and the city of Rome looking for ways to keep their transportation services operational.

The purchase of the buses will not change projects paid for by the education local option sales tax such as the system's new college and career academy.

RCS board members broke ground on that project on Friday and Byars said construction on that site has already begun.

The system will use bonds sold through the Rome Building Authority to kick start the ELOST project due to the rising costs of construction. The CCA project currently has an estimated price tag of over $24 million. Byars told the board during their planning retreat earlier this month that saving up ELOST funds for the CCA would delay construction five years, not including construction time itself.

During the retreat Byars told the board that the sixth grade academy would be put on hold so the system can continue making transportation plans for the next school year.

The bus costs may also keep RCS from constructing a small classroom addition behind Rome Middle School, Byars said.

The system is looking into moving the temporary classrooms from North Heights Elementary to Rome Middle School to relieve some of the more crowded classes at the school.

Rome City Schools will present their proposed budget Tuesday during their monthly board meting at 5:45 p.m. On Wednesday, the RCS proposed budget will go before the Rome Finance Committee at 10:45 a.m. in the Sam King Room at City Hall. All presentations are open to the public.

Durham says he won't run for reelection in '20
• Qualifying begins on March 2 for the May 19, 2020, election.

Judge Bryant Durham

Floyd County's chief judge has made it official, he won't be running for office again in 2020.

Judge J. Bryant Durham took up the role of chief judge when Judge Tami Colston retired in December 2018, and will pass that title on to Judge Jack Niedrach upon retirement.

"I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity. I've met a lot of good people and I hope I helped people when I could and hope the community is better for it," Durham said.

He served four full terms in office and one partial term when he was appointed to the bench in 2003 by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, to finish the unexpired term of Judge Robert Walther. He was elected to his first full term in 2004.

That wasn't his first attempt at donning the black robe and gavel. His first crack at becoming a Superior Court judge ended in a second-place finish to Judge Larry Salmon in a 1988 run-off election.

He's not going to let go of that role entirely upon retirement either. "I am going to take senior (judge) status," Durham said. "I'll have an opportunity to fill in around the state."

Much of his youth was spent in Nigeria, where his parents were missionaries. He moved to Rome when he turned 15 and became a boarding student, graduating with honors in 1967.

From there, he went to Mercer University and graduated with two degrees, in history and political science. He earned his law degree at the University of Georgia in 1974.

The judge also has military experience, he said, becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1973. He was promoted to the rank of captain one day before he completed his reserve service in 1981.

His legal service began at Covington, Kilpatrick, Storey and Durham. From there, he went on to be a partner in Jones, Byington, Durham and Payne. In 2001, he moved to Cox, Byington, Corwin, Niedrach and Durham and stayed there until 2003. He also served as Rome's municipal judge from 1998 to 2003 and the Floyd County Probate Court administrator from 1990 to 2003.

Upon retirement he hopes to do some traveling with his wife Regina. "We both have a hankering to go to Australia."

The qualifying period for the May 19, 2020, nonpartisan election lasts from March 2-6.

Georgia Highlands College 2019 Commencement

In honor of their heritage
• And in defiance of an order, Cherokee students plant corn in Rome for the first time in nearly two centuries.

Taran Swimmer

Taran Swimmer does not speak her native Cherokee tongue fluently. She sings it beautifully. Swimmer sang the Cherokee anthem as part of ceremonies at the Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home in Rome Saturday to plant corn on native grounds for the first time since 1837.

Swimmer, who has returned from college to teach graphic design at Cherokee High, said the Cherokee anthem, roughly translated, "Talks about how this land is still ours, talking about the freedom of the mountains and how, despite all, we still consider this home."

Swimmer said the ability to reach anyone with the message of the Cherokee culture means a lot to her.

The program was put together by Professor Allen Bryant of Appalachian State University in response to a letter he found which was authored by Gen. John E. Wool in March 1837. The letter, read to a crowd at the museum by Cherokee (N.C.) High School senior Shirley Peebles stated, "Your fate is decided. The President, as well as Congress have decreed that you should remove from this country ... Remember that you have but one summer more to plant corn in this country."

Bryant said he's not quite sure why Gen. Wool's letter hit him so hard. "But it did, and I would very much like to prove the general wrong. I'd like to bring some young people down here to plant some corn on an important piece of the home land."

Bryant brought four high school seniors who are dual-enrolled at APSU — Derek Torres, Tay Lambert, Peebles and Emma Stamper — for an overnight visit to Rome. He explained the Cherokee students know about removal and they know that it was bad.

"But walking down that stairwell (inside the Major Ridge Home) and seeing one of the homes that was lost and abandoned, it become so much more than a historical moment. It becomes a real experience. They're responding in ways that just blow me away," Bryant said.

It was the first visit to the native Cherokee land that is now Rome for Emma Stamper who said,

"We don't hear much about our history other than the Trail of Tears, so coming here is a real learning experience."

Derek Torres said it was particularly moving for him to see a lot of folks come out Saturday to learn more about Cherokee culture. He said the students got to Chieftains a couple of hours before the ceremony took place Saturday, and that it was an amazing experience to walk around the former home of the Cherokee leader who is still looked upon with great disdain by many of the Cherokee.

"It means a lot to me that we were able to come down to the land that was once ours and plant corn without having to worry about anything," said Tay Lambert.

The corn itself comes from seed from the most hallowed of grounds near Cherokee, and Bryant said it was his hope that he could replicate the ceremony on an annual basis, to help more Cherokee students learn more about their ancestral homes.


Today's artwork is by Victoria Evans, a Pepperell third-grader.