State of the Oconee School System
The superintendent of the Oconee County Schools, Dr. John Jackson, reports on student achievement, the system's budget and its infrastructure.
The start of a new year provides an opportunity to report on the current state of Oconee County Schools. Following is a summary of accomplishments as well as challenges facing the school system in three areas: student achievement, finance and facilities.
Our schools continue to excel academically. Just recently, five district schools received awards for exceptional performance from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.
In addition, all schools individually and the school system as a whole achieved adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the 2009-10 school year based on federal requirements.
The graduation rate continues to climb, with 93 percent of students graduating in the Class of 2010. College entrance exam scores remain high, with the 2010 ACT average reaching an all-time high. SAT scores were higher in 2010 as Georgia’s score moved in the opposite direction.
Enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses in our high schools is increasing and exam pass rates for the 2009-10 school year improved over the previous two years. National norm-referenced tests (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) were administered in third and seventh grades this fall, and most scores placed our schools in the top 25 percent of schools in the nation. The eleventh grade writing test results were extremely high (99% pass rate) and Oconee schools had the number one scaled score in the state and the second highest percentage of students “exceeding” writing standards in the state.
Financial issues will continue to challenge our schools in 2011. We are certain to see a decline in revenues for the third straight year on both the state and local levels. This will place pressure on personnel allocations as almost 90 percent of our budget goes toward personnel costs.
While we are not certain about the final figures, preliminary numbers point to at least a $2 million shortfall even if additional cuts are not made.
Federal stimulus dollars – which have been used by state officials to plug budget gaps – will no longer be available. In addition, local revenues from property taxes will decline in proportion to the decrease in home values in our county.
Class sizes have increased at several schools this year and in all likelihood will continue to increase across the school system. Some staffing and purchasing decisions that historically have been made in early spring will need to be delayed until a clearer revenue picture can be determined.
On a brighter note, despite the gloomy budget picture, Oconee schools have been able to “do more with less” and have provided employees with the opportunity to purchase additional benefits (dental, vision and short-term disability, to name a few). This will hopefully enhance our employee retention rate which has remained very high throughout the economic downturn. The school system continues to value its employees, our teachers especially, as we realize the powerful impact they have on student success.
After several years of facility construction and a lull in student enrollment growth, we are finally slightly ahead of the growth curve with regard to available classroom space. While there is room for student growth at the elementary and high school levels, classroom space remains tight in our middle schools and will be the first order of business in planning for our future needs.
This spring the Georgia Department of Education will be invited to assist Oconee schools in enrollment projections and facility planning.
Attention will be given to our older schools where infrastructure improvements (HVAC, lighting, plumbing, etc.) are needed.
The board of education will be provided with this report along with a possible plan for funding future facility needs, including access to state funding and recommendations for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) renewal likely to go before voters later this year.