Monday morning, I spoke to the board of education on behalf of The Upson Beacon to let them know publicly that they were in violation of the Georgia Sunshine Laws, specifically the Open Meetings Act.

My hope was that they would understand and become compliant. Before I spoke, I sent them all an objection letter and filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office.

Here’s why…

Dinner has been served during all the executive sessions, at every meeting. I believe having dinner during the executive sessions is an intentional method to circumvent public meetings. The length of the meetings is excessive and is a blatant lack of respect for those who may want to attend.

There is nothing in Georgia’s Open Meetings Act that allows a closed session to be extended for an inordinate time for dinner while the public waits for them to finish eating and chatting.

The board of education allows non-board members to attend executive sessions and also to dine, as well as discuss other issues. When the meeting is open to non-board members, it must also be open to the general public.

Board members have been discussing other matters during executive sessions than the law allows. They are allowed to discuss legal matters with counsel, real estate matters, and personnel matters. We know they talked about the budget, because it was discovered in that closed meeting that there were a few select folks who work at the central office getting raises.

During the Monday evening public hearing, Danny Hunter introduced Georgia Code Title 20, Education 20-2-167 to the board. Rather than print the entire law, which is lengthy, here’s the meat of it:

“Each local school system may, however, establish a single reserve fund or reserve account intended to cover unanticipated deficiencies in revenue or unanticipated expenditures, provided that the budget for any year shall not allocate to such reserve fund or reserve account any amounts which, when combined with the existing balance in such fund or account, exceed 15 percent of that year's total budget.”

It further states intent of the law: “The purpose of this paragraph is to prohibit local school systems from accumulating surplus funds through taxation without accounting to the taxpayers for how such funds will be expended, and this paragraph shall be liberally construed to accomplish this purpose.”

Hunter explained to the board that since they are sitting on $13.5 million in a reserve account they call “Estimated Fund Equity,” they are more than 15 percent over what the law allows.

Last Friday, I sent an open records request asking the board for the code or law that allows them to have more than 15 percent of the budget in reserve. They notified me that they would respond Wednesday, Aug. 3 by noon. Wonder why they don’t know or why they are taking so much time to answer…?

One thing I was wrong about was the dinners being paid for by tax dollars. I assumed that. And we all know what happens when you assume.

In the past year they’ve spent more than $1,500 on dinner for the board of education to meet, dine, and keep their constituents waiting. Dr. Derico responded to that question in response to Kay Edmonson’s request for information… “Employee meals cannot be paid for with taxpayer funds. Meals for employees, whether it be at a board meeting, at the central office, or at the school level, are either donated or paid from discretionary funds called “activity accounts” held either at the school level by the school principal or at central office by the superintendent.”

To me, that money would be better utilized for students’ fees for extracurricular activities or to help supplement teachers who shell out big money to get their classrooms ready for students to come back to school… Not even sure if it’s legal to get money from the schools.

Here are a few other things we know…

After consulting with our tax commissioner, Andy Chastain, he pointed out that the amounts the BOE and county commissioners are advertising about the tax hike do not take into account the valuation increase in homes from 2021 to 2022. On average, home values increased about 15 percent. The amounts they are telling us are based on the Department of Revenue’s definition of advertising a tax increase, which does not take into account a home’s increased value for this tax year.

The BOE ignores everyone and offers zero response to anyone who asks questions… even in a public hearing. That is bad.

County commissioners have backed off a bit, but as far as I know, they’re still planning to raise the millage rate.

The last BOE public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. and the next county commission meeting the same, Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. We cannot attend both meetings, but if we do not keep this momentum going, they will raise the millage.

It’s all greed and has nothing to do with need.

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