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BOE approves budget, improvements to Eastside's field
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With a new fiscal year beginning next week for the Newton County school district, the Newton County Board of Education (BOE) approved several different contracts for the upcoming school year.

Up for discussion was a contract for track and field improvements at Eastside High School, which some of the board members classified as a “safety issue” for students who use them.

In a 4-0-1 vote, with school board member Eddie Johnson abstaining, the board approved a contract being awarded to Whitesburg, Georgia-based Sports Turf Company. The contract is worth $622,833.

Johnson’s biggest gripe with the contract is that he wanted to see plans or designs of what was going to be done and how it was to be accomplished at the high school field.

“An expenditure of this magnitude, I think it (we should’ve had) a presenter to tell us what the job consists of,” said Johnson. “What it will look? What are we actually doing out there? We should’ve made a visit, in my opinion, to give us some understanding what’s going on.”

According to school documents, the project consists of the removal of existing grass on the football filed, removal of existing track surfacing, installation of a continuous track drainage system, modification of the existing storm drainage system, new track surfacing and installation of a new sod playing surface.

Newton County School System (NCSS) Director of Operation Jan Loomins told the board the track was “so damage” students “are no longer able to run that track or have competitive events on that track.”

“It has been in terrible condition for about six years now and repairs have been delayed,” she said citing the economic downturn as the reason for the delay. “The actually football practice field, which is also the field where soccer is played is in deplorable condition as well, and we attempted twice to renovate that field and were unable to accomplish any significant change to the potholes and ridges in the field.”

The Eastside soccer team had to relocate their home games to Sharp Stadium because “the field was so unsafe,” Loomis added.

Johnson said he “understands the shortcomings” of the field, but felt the board would like to see exactly how the project was to be accomplished since the contract was worth “almost three-quarters of a million dollars.” Johnson questioned why the board needed to approve or disapprove of the contract at the meeting now.

With the number of safety concerns attributed to the field, the NCSS hoped to have the field improved before the soccer players begin their season in the spring of 2016, says NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey.

“If you delay it until July I don’t know that there will be enough time to set the grass to get it ready to roll for the kids to play soccer,” she said.

The other four board members seemed committed to getting the contract approved as board member Shakila Henderson-Baker, district 3, cited that parents have already complained to the board about the field, and District 5 board member Almond Turner said even if there were blueprints on what was to be done to the field, “I still wouldn’t know what I’m looking at because I don’t know that business.”

“There are no major changes being done,” said BOE Chairwoman Abigail Coggin. “It’s strictly replacing what is already there.”

In other school business:

-The board approved of a final budget for the 2016 fiscal school year in a 4-1 vote, with Johnson as the lone dissenter.
The total budget increase over the current fiscal school year will be about $10.6 million, which will raise the NCSS expenditures to about $159.4 million. With revenues increasing by about $8 million to $155.8 million, the NCSS projects to have a remaining general fund balance of about $19.3 million by the end of the fiscal year, or $1.5 million less than the general fund balance at the current fiscal year.

The reasons for the increased budget can be attributed to NCSS restoring both the certified and non-certified salary schedules halfway to their 2009 amounts, before the Great Recession hit, elimination of the three remaining furlough days, which will cost about $1.6 million, increase in healthcare insurance, and an increase in contribution to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

-In a 4-1 vote, with Johnson dissenting, the BOE approved an annual contract to Texas-based Tyler Technologies for $70,626.

The contract is to provide computer software for the NCSS’s school bus management system. This system allows the school to track buses when their on the road, among other functions.

Johnson said he didn’t see any evidence in the information provided to him by the school system that warrants spending “another $70,000 when you can’t get a decent response out of how you spent the first 70.”

“(The information) cited no cost savings or anything,” he said. “I just cannot support it.”