Year in Review: Education -- Cuts, changes for schools

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

COVINGTON -- It was a year of changes and challenging times for area school systems.

State cuts resulted in multimillion dollar budget cuts in both Newton and Rockdale counties.

Newton County maxed out its millage rate to bring in more revenue, in addition to reducing retirement contributions, freezing salary rates, shortening its school calendar by two days, cutting teaching and support staff positions and making other smaller cuts to make up for a budget shortfall.

Rockdale County also increased its millage rate, reduced retirement contributions, made some minor staffing cuts by not filling some open positions and cut other areas to make up for reduced state funding and lower revenues from tax collections.

Newton County also said goodbye to some longtime leaders this year.

In addition to Superintendent Steven Whatley retiring in June and his replacement Gary Mathews taking over in July, school board member C.C. Bates resigned from the Newton County Board of Education in June before the end of her term in December. Members Cathy Dobbs and Johnny Smith also decided not to run for re-election to the school board.

School board members-elect -- Shakila Henderson Baker, Abigail Morgan Coggin and Jeff Meadors -- will take over the open spots this month.

In Rockdale County, an internal investigation by Rockdale County Public Schools led to a request for the termination of Rockdale Career Academy CEO Tim Melvin and resulted in his resignation in late February.

Records showed that Melvin had been involved in inappropriate public contact with a subordinate and heavy drinking with other subordinates, including one who is a recovering alcoholic.

Then-assistant principal Miki Edwards later was appointed as his replacement.

The bad news kept coming for Rockdale County, when students and community members mourned the loss of two siblings who were killed in a car accident in March on their way to school.

Heritage High School senior Karl Michael Anschutz, 18, was driving his 13-year-old sister Laura to Davis Middle School when he lost control of his car around a curve on McDaniel Mill Road.

Rockdale County schools also saw some good news by the end of the year, when the system's superintendent, Dr. Samuel King, was selected to serve as the state's 2011 Superintendent of the Year, after being nominated for the third consecutive year.

Schools are dealing with physical changes as well.

In January, a new building for C.J. Hicks Elementary School opened in a $15 million, SPLOST-funded facility across the street from its original 40-year-old building. The previous building will reopen this month as an annex for Rockdale County High School and the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology.

In Newton County in February, school board members decided to phase out three school buildings from state funding -- Newton High School and Palmer Stone and Ficquett elementary schools. Palmer Stone is not expected to be used as a school next school year; instead, its students will move to a new school building on Airport Road. The board hasn't announced what will happen to the other phased-out buildings, although they are expected to be replaced in the future.