The Floyd County Board of Education met Tuesday morning to discuss possible measures aimed at strengthening school security, among them allowing specific educators access to firearms securely kept on campuses should an active shooter situation arise.
The discussion — which followed the deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school last week — also touched on stationing police officers and implementing a tiered-entry system at each Floyd County school, along with increasing the number of counselors and developing open communication with students, who may be the first to see or hear of a potential threat. No action was taken on what was discussed, rather the school system will further research the matters and reconvene with board members to share their findings during the March 6 board meeting.
The system's attorney, King Askew, addressed the possibility of arming educators and what the law allows. As a general rule, he said having guns at school, events or on buses is prohibited, with certain exceptions, namely school resource officers.
However, Askew said the board could authorize, through a written policy, for certain individuals in a school to have access to firearms. These individuals would be subject to annual criminal history checks and psychological evaluations, as well as undergoing training, including marksmanship and judgmental pistol shooting — the statute on the matter does not state the level of training required. They must also have a gun permit.
Additionally, Askew said firearms at the school should be kept in a lock box which is not easily accessible by students.
Board member Jay Shell had raised the possibility, along with adding officers, in a Facebook post Saturday, wanting the system to take a proactive approach in bolstering school security.
"It's got to stay at the forefront of our minds," Shell said, adding that Americans cannot become numb to school shootings.
"It is a discussion we ought to have," said Tony Daniel, vice chairman of the board, adding that training to the level police undergo would be needed, so as not to create issues beyond the one they are trying to solve. "It's not black and white. It's a big gray area."
Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter pledged his office would assist in training educators. He, along with board members, also mentioned the need to foster relationships with students so they feel comfortable in coming forward with information on a potential threat.
"They see the signs," he said. "We have to learn their language."
Board members expressed a need for further input from the stakeholders in schools and community members on the matter, with Melinda Jeffers suggesting town hall meetings. Board Chairman Chip Hood emphasized students must be included in the conversation as they can play a critical role in security.
"We all have to take responsibility for this," Daniel added. "There's not a one size fits all."
Editor's note: A follow-up to this report will run in Thursday's Rome-News Tribune and will focus on security measures Floyd County Schools currently has in place and ones they are working to implement.
Most Georgia taxpayers will see a tax cut this year under a plan unveiled by Gov. Nathan Deal during a press conference Tuesday.
The legislation — a compromise hammered out with lawmakers late last week — will double the standard deduction and kick off a two-tiered reduction in the rate.
"This is the first income tax decrease in the history of Georgia," said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome. "And it's a true middle class tax cut."
Hufstetler, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, was closely involved in the negotiations, which included his House counterpart Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla.
The two stood with Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Dennis Ralston for the announcement at the State Capitol.
Under House Bill 918, the standard deduction is doubled this year from $2,300 to $4,600 for individual filers and from $3,000 to $6,000 for married joint filers.
Then, starting next year, the top rate will go to 5.75 percent from 6 percent and drop again, to 5.5 percent in 2020.
"This bill ... will save taxpayers more than $5 billion over the next five years," Deal said. "Doubling the standard deduction will also allow Georgia filers to take fuller advantage of the newly enhanced federal standard deduction."
Powell's ways and means committee is expected to pass the measure on to the full House quickly and from there it will go to Hufstetler's finance committee.
Hufstetler said he previewed it for the Senate Republican caucus before Deal's announcement and, despite a provision that restores a jet fuel tax exemption, it was well-received.
"There are a lot of us that aren't in favor of that, but it's $35 million and we get $1 billion. That's the compromise I had to agree to," he said. "I feel fairly certain this will have passed the House and Senate by next week."
Because state law requires filers who claim the standard federal deduction to do the same on state taxes, Georgia would have received a "windfall" of about $5 billion a year. After a brief celebration, lawmakers realized it would have come directly out of taxpayers' pockets and started working on an adjustment.
Hufstetler said HB 918 eliminates the windfall and cuts income tax revenue an additional $1.2 billion a year.
A family of four earning $50,000 will see a 16-percent decrease, he said. At the $75,000-level it will be 12 percent and at $150,000 it will be 10 percent.
"About 49 percent of Georgians earn $50,000 or under that," he said. "This covers about 95 percent. It's an income tax break for every bracket."
A provision in the bill requires the Legislature to affirm the decrease to 5.5 percent in 2020. Hufstetler said it's just a fail-safe mechanism to ensure the revenue projections are correct — "But they are."
Deal said the legislation "addresses Georgia's projected windfall while balancing the state's fiscal health and protecting our AAA bond rating."
There are two candidates left in the running to replace Alto Park Elementary School Principal Angela Brock, who will retire April 30, and one of them is expected to be recommended to the Floyd County Board of Education at the March 6 meeting, according to Superintendent John Jackson.
Brock announced her plans to retire in January and the board approved her retirement, along with a handful of other personnel changes, during a called meeting Tuesday.
Jackson said interviews were held Monday and two candidates will have follow-up interviews. When the system fills the principal opening, it will have completed four principal hires in 2018.
During the Feb. 6 meeting, the board filled three principal vacancies: Shelly Bell at Cave Spring Elementary, Tanya Welchel at Johnson Elementary and Carrie Graves at Glenwood Primary.
Also on Tuesday, the board approved Carroll Daniel Construction for the Model High football press box expansion, which includes HVAC and PA system installation. The company submitted the lower of two bids for the project at $245,257, which is $56,068 less than the bid from R.K. Redding Construction.
This was the second time bids have been requested for the project. The board put aside around $2 million last year for athletic facility improvements around the system. This resulted in work on the baseball field at Armuchee High, the football field at Coosa High and the Pepperell High track — the press box is the next step.
The system is working to complete the project before football season begins.
Today's artwork is by Garrett Womack, a sixth-grader at Lyerly Elementary School.
The State Properties Commission is having complete appraisals for the property and buildings at the old Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property done to determine a fair market value for the property. Members of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority learned Tuesday that the SPC has offered the community the same deal for local control of the Northwest Georgia Regional property that was given to authorities in Milledgeville and Baldwin County for the old Central State Hospital campus.
There is one significant difference. The state still has approximately $4.2 million in bonded indebtedness that ties up the entire property in West Rome. "Forgiving the debt doesn't seem to be on the table," said authority attorney Andy Davis.
There was no debt on much of the property at Central State in Milledgeville and that is the property that was deeded over to a sitespecific development authority for redevelopment of that site.
"Theirs was fair market value. They had some facilities that were zero or less in value," Davis said. "They got some of that property for zero."
"With ours, it's kind of an all or none kind of thing," said Chamber of Commerce Director of Business and Industry Services Ken Wright. "If we want somebody to come into the hospital to purchase, they would pretty much have to purchase the entire property."
Wright did say the appraisals being sought by the SPC at Northwest Regional would be done on a building by building basis.
Wright said that his office is looking into grants that might be available to help Rome and Floyd County purchase the hospital property, some 132 acres. He is also trying to clarify with the Appalachian Regional Commission if the community can even apply for grant redevelopment money for property it does not own.
Chamber leaders reported that Senator Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, was seeking to get Floyd County added to an omnibus piece of legislation that would allow the state to dispose of state-owned real properties in certain counties across the state.
"We're continuing to market it aggressively as recently as yesterday," said Chamber President Al Hodge.
Chamber Economic Development Director Heather Seckman said, "I know people that want to move in there right now. It would be really great if we could get control of that, even if it was just one building, it would be wonderful."