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Rockdale schools budget includes mental health programs, 42 more teachers, full calendar
Central office director positions approved
Heritage senior Chandler Peeples was named the winner of the $5,000 Diego Rincon Scholarship, presented by Roger Rehorn of the Rehorn Family Foundation

After years of belt tightening and tough cuts, Rockdale County Public Schools is finally looking at a sunnier budget outlook. A proposed $129.9 million budget for 2014-2015 would eliminate furlough days and restore a 180 day student/190 day staff calendar, add 42 teacher positions, restore 10 ITDS positions (who help teachers use technology in the curriculum), and keep many of the STARS programs funded by a soon-expiring federal grant, such as mental health services in the schools.

The proposed budget is almost $10 million more than the previous year's budget, with $7.8 million more being received in state funds and about $1.2 million more projected from local funds.

RCPS Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said the preliminary tax digest numbers from Rockdale County Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley "show growth in the digest."

Davis tentatively predicted that the school board might even be able to bring down the millage rate by a half mil and still meet the proposed budget. Last year, the school portion of the millage rate (property tax rate) was increased by 1.5 mils.

The STARS program was funded by a five year $5.5 million Safe Schools Healthy Students federal grant awarded in 2009 in partnership with the RCPS, Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, Conyers Police Department, Gwinnett, Rockdale, Newton Community Service Board, Department of Juvenile Justice, the Barksdale Boys and Girls Club.

The grant, which ends this year, funded a wide array of programs including mental health services, bullying prevention, teen leadership development, drug and alcohol abuse treatment and prevention and more.

About $700,000 of salary and supply expenses from STARS programs are incorporated into the proposed $129.9 million budget.The programs continued include mental health services at schools and drug and alcohol abuse treatment and prevention. The collaborative practices generated by the overall STARS intiative will be continued, said STARS coordinator Susan Paul Smith, who will stay on in her role.

At the end of the Thursday Rockdale County school board meeting, which took place at Heritage High to accomodate the large number of student awards and recognitions, the school board unanimously approved the appointment of Andrea Pritchett, currently the RCPS social studies coordinator, to the position of Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

Tammy Smith, currently principal at JH House Elementary, was approved as the Director of Professional Learning, a position vacated by Shirley Chesser, who was promoted to Chief Academic Officer.

Also presnted at the school board meeting:

Roger Rehorn of the Rehorn Family Foundation announced that Heritage High senior Chandler Peeples was the winner of the ninth annual $5,000 Diego Rincon scholarship, named after a Class of 2000 Salem grad and soldier killed while serving in Iraq. Rehorn said Peeples' essay immediately stood out to the panel of evaluators out of the 50 applicants from all three high schools. Peeples is attending Cumberland University in the fall.