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BOE to set up security committee
• Rome City Schools holds a called meeting Wednesday to discuss improvements that can be made to bolster school security.

Lou Byars

Rome City Schools is putting together a committee to examine school security and find ways in which it can be improved, Superintendent Lou Byars told board members during a called meeting Wednesday.

The committee will be made up of officials from the Rome Police Department and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, along with board members, administrators and stakeholders in the community. Byars also said students should take part in the discussion because they can often be the first to hear of a potential threat or safety concern.

The meeting touched on projects concerning school safety which have been completed and those in the works, along with an increasing police presence, and providing advocates for kids to open up communication for students to feel safe in reporting bullying or more dangerous threats.

With the student body of Rome High continuing to grow, Byars asked Rome police Maj. Rodney Bailey if adding another school resource officer at the school would be possible — Rome High, Rome Middle and the Rome Transitional Academy each have one SRO.

The department is 18 officers short and those it has are working 12-hour shifts, Bailey said. But he believed the addition of six recruits currently in training would provide enough relief for another officer to be posted at the high school.

Board member Alvin Jackson asked Bailey if there has been any interest from retired officers in becoming SROs. Bailey said there has not been any yet. However, new SROs should embrace a tactical mindset and be younger and quicker.

The system is seeking quotes on adding building extensions at the front of East Central and West Central elementary schools. This would create a tiered entryway with an office window between the two sets of doors for a staff member to screen anyone before they could reach classrooms.

As part of the current education local option sales tax package, the system installed barcode readers at each school. To open a door a programmed card must be placed before a reader for it to unlock.

Buzz-in entry systems with cameras have also been put in at schools. Schools also have radios that are connected to the Floyd County 911 network.

Upgrades to security cameras at the high school and middle school have been completed and Anna K. Davie Elementary had them installed when the new school was built. Over the next six months security cameras will be installed for the remaining schools, with the exception of North Heights Elementary, which will undergo renovations to become a sixth-grade academy as part of the next ELOST package.

Byars said each school holds two active shooter drills a year. Jackson added he'd like to see more training for teachers and administrators on safety plans. Finding time for professional development on something other than classroom management can be a challenge, Byars said, but he would look at what could be done.

Bailey said it is important for police to have updated emergency operations plans, and police can come into schools to explain what their response is. Any concern or report — even if it's seemingly minor or even odd — must be looked into, he added.


Delta tax break cut over NRA fight
• Sen. Chuck Hufstetler says the Senate will pass the revised income tax bill today.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Rep. Christian Coomer

Delta's fuel tax exemption was removed Wednesday from the omnibus tax bill slated to be voted on by the state Senate today.

The measure, House Bill 918, includes an income tax break for Georgia residents and businesses — and nullifies the increase that would result from the federal tax reform legislation.

"It will pass," said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R- Rome, with confidence.

The amended bill would then return to the House for another vote and, if accepted, head to the governor's desk. The fuel tax break was a major factor in Gov. Nathan Deal's support and his floor leader, Sen. P.K. Martin, R-Lawrenceville, declined to predict the bill's final fate.

"I'm unsure at this time," he said during questioning by members of the Senate Rules standing committee.

Hufstetler, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, appeared with Martin to present the new version of the bill. Any changes would normally go through his committee first, but he said the Rules subcommittee also has the authority.

"Legislative counsel said this was a mechanism to get it done without sending it back," Hufstetler said.

He previously described passage of the bill as "urgent," since Georgians are filing their income tax returns now and their state tax bills are slated to skyrocket due to changes in the federal tax code.

HB 918 addresses that unintended consequence by doubling the standard deduction and cutting the top bracket to 5.75 percent from 6 percent. A further reduction to 5.5 percent is scheduled for 2020 as long as revenues don't tank.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other Republican lawmakers called for eliminating Delta's tax break after the airline severed its relationship with the National Rifle Association. Hufstetler said the exemption for jet fuel — a loss of $35 million a year — wasn't popular to begin with.

"I wasn't in favor of it, but it was important to me that the overall package pass with the first tax cut in state history," he said. "I lost support for it when this came up."

Delta is headquartered at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but several states have made overtures to the company suggesting a move. The governors of New York and Virginia, and mayors of St. Louis, Birmingham and Minneapolis — the location of Delta's second-largest hub — all tweeted their interest.

Hufstetler said he's not worried about the potential loss of jobs.

"Delta just signed a 20-year agreement with the Atlanta airport. They enjoy tremendous benefits they can't get anywhere else. I doubt they will move," he said.

Martin said the only change to the bill passed by the House is the removal of all the language referencing the fuel tax exemption. However, Floyd County's representatives weren't ready to make a firm commitment Wednesday. "I have to see what comes to the floor," said Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville. "I have not given any thought to that because we are in the throes of Crossover Day."

Wednesday was the deadline for legislation to pass at least one chamber or be declared dead.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by East Central first-grader Emory Johnson.


A trip to the grocery store

NWGHA to put hold on parties at Division Street gym
• The board will seek a new policy to better control private events.

The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority is putting a temporary moratorium on rentals of the gymnasium on Division Street until a new policy can be written to cut down on unruly activity spilling out into the Village Green and Willingham at Division housing units.

Director of Resident Services Molly Majestic was allowed to retain whatever rentals are currently on the books, but was told not to take any more reservations.

The authority has gotten a number of complaints about youth parties, particularly involving middle school-aged students. The complaints range from fighting to the use of marijuana at the parties. One resident complained that her windows had been broken out as a result of one of the brawls.

Director of Security Melvin Scott suggested a possible change to prohibit events after 8 p.m. Authority member Michael Taylor even suggested eliminating late night events unless they were sanctioned by a local church or other community organization.

Executive Director Sandra Hudson said the most recent event which led to complaints also involved the people who rented the gym charging admission to the party, which is a violation of housing authority regulations.

The authority also approved an amendment to its retirement package for full time employees. In the past, in order to participate in the retirement plan, an employee had to contribute at least half of one percent of their salary to be eligible. That was matched by an automatic eight percent contribution from the authority,

In the future, employees will have to contribute at least one percent to be eligible, and the agency will match whatever the employee contributes, up to a maximum of eight percent.

Finance Director Tammy Morrow said that only four employees are currently contributing anything above the half of one percent and she estimated the annual savings to the authority of close to $70,000.

The authority is looking for ways to cut its budget since the Department of Housing and Urban Development cut the subsidy to the agencies operating budget by $300,000. this year.


Police: NW Georgia teacher fires gun in classroom; no one hurt

ATLANTA— A social studies teacher barricaded himself inside a classroom at a Georgia high school on Wednesday and fired a handgun once in what may have been a warning shot, authorities said.

No students were in the classroom at the time, and the only injury reported was a student who hurt her ankle running when Dalton High School was evacuated.

The teacher, Jesse Randal Davidson, was taken into custody without incident after a 30 to 45-minute standoff with officers, Dalton police spokesman Bruce Frazier said. Davidson, 53, serves as the play-by-play announcer for the high school's football team, police said in a tweet.

Police didn't immediately say why Davidson fired the gun, but noted that he aimed away from anyone into an exterior window as the principal tried to unlock the classroom door. After the gunshot, the school was immediately placed on lockdown.

"I don't know whether he was just firing the gun off to let people know to back off or what," Frazier said.

It's not clear what charges Davidson will face.

Student Emma Jacobs texted her mother while she hid inside a darkened classroom, her mother, Annmarie Jacobs, told The Associated Press. Emma, a junior, said in texts that her teacher had turned the lights off and told the students to sit in a corner.

Then, in an act that brought home the danger of the situation, Emma texted her mother, "omg she's putting desk in front of the door."

Jacobs said she was driving in Tennessee, about 100 miles away from the school, when she got the texts. She said she immediately pulled over and started shaking.

The shooting happened two weeks after a Florida school shooting left 17 students and faculty dead, put the country on edge and ignited a new debate over gun control in America.

The shooting happened about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday during Davidson's planning period.

Students were trying to get into his classroom, but he wouldn't let them in. The students notified the principal, who tried to open the door with a key.

At Dalton High a week ago, police found a "threatening" note on the floor of a classroom, but it wasn't related to the shooting Wednesday.

Police said the note was found Feb. 21, and mentioned a threat against the school the following day.

Assistant Police Chief Cliff Cason said in a statement at the time that officers planned an increased presence at the city's schools in response after the note was found. Threats have been made at schools across the country in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Dalton has about 2,000 students, according to its website. Students were taken to the Northwest Georgia Center and parents advised to go there to pick them up.

Associated Press writers Jacob Jordan in Atlanta and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.