County, school system make amends

By Greg Gelpi

The school board closed the drama on one issue, while opening drama in another.

The Clayton County Board of Education voted 6-0 to rejoin Clayton County in building an aquatic center.

Although the aquatic center debate brought sharp words between the county commission and the school board in recent months, Monday's discussion brought jovial comments from both sides and a united front to build the nearly $14 million aquatic center and recreation facility.

Later in the meeting, though, the board, still in open session, met in an impromptu huddle to discuss how to perform a state-mandated annual evaluation of Superintendent Barbara Pulliam. Board members broke from the private meeting immediately when members of the media approached to hear the discussion that had been moved just beyond board members' microphones.

Board member Ericka Davis apologized for the actions, and school board attorney Gary Sams said that nothing illegal was done, although it wasn't the best move. He added, that in baseball a "ball isn't a ball until the umpire calls it a ball."

In a 6-0 vote, the board decided to conduct an evaluation in November at Pulliam's nine-month mark and hold an annual evaluation in July.

The approval of the school board to rejoin the county in building an aquatic center ended a three-month spat between the two.

The school board approved the additional $900,000 for the aquatic center, fulfilling a promise to build such a center with its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Board member Connie Kitchens expressed her support once she was assured that the decision wouldn't impact the school children.

"For the record and unequivocally, I say we can handle it," Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said.

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Crandle Bray couldn't promise the school board that the price wouldn't go up again, but called the price "firm."

"We don't have extra money any more than you do," Bray said.

The county and school system entered into the joint venture to build an aquatic center more than four years ago. Both parted ways in May when the county asked the school system to provide more funding for the project since the price of steel and other building costs had increased since then.

"I'm somewhat remiss in not having been here four year ago," Bray told the school board. "All we need is the Board of Education's blessing. With your blessing, we can break ground immediately."

The county had billed the school system about $500,000 for expenses already incurred in the planning and designing of the aquatic center. Brian Miller, the school system's director of facility auxiliary services, said that is a "moot point." That money will be part of the $4.8 million the school system agreed to pay as its half of the pool portion of the project.

When the two parted ways, each began plans for individual aquatic centers. The county plans to build six recreation centers throughout the county, and the school system wanted an aquatic center for swimming competitions.

Miller said that a school system-built aquatic center would run between $10 million and $12 million. The operation costs would be $1.5 million to $2 million annually.

The school system uses the Forest Park recreation center for competitions currently, but is outgrowing the facility due to the popularity of swimming in the county.

The school board also approved its millage rate of 18.916 n no change from last fiscal year. Those with higher reassessed property values will pay more taxes, although the millage rate is the same. On a $100,000 home, the school taxes will be $525.99, according to Davis. If a home increased in value by $10,000 under the reassessment, the school taxes would increase $75.66.

Board members Linda Crummy, Bob Livingston and Carol Kellam were absent from the meeting.