School day start times, higher pay among takeaways from Richmond County School Board meeting

·4 min read

Like students at the end of finals week, members of the Richmond County School Board erupted in cheers when School Board Chairman Charlie Hannah made the announcement.

“The Richmond County School System’s last day will be May 24. That’s an early release day.”

That also marked the end of a busy meeting in which the board green-lighted construction on a new school, purchased a forensic cyber security program, changed school start times, reviewed its proposed budget and issued congratulations to its basketball state champions, valedictorians and awardees.

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Old stomping grounds to become new elementary school

With the county's student enrollment slowly ticking up – from 29,093 in 2020 to 29,470 in 2021 – the district is adding another elementary school on Augusta's south side.

In 2019, the school board closed Rollins Elementary near Peach Orchard Road and I-520 as part of a right-sizing effort. Rezoned students went to nearby Richmond Hill K-8. Now, the district needs more space.

Last year, Rollins was demolished, after the site was chosen as the home of the district's second of two new schools. The first will be a middle school near Sue Reynolds Elementary on Wrightsboro Road.

At Tuesday's meeting the board approved a contract with McDonald Construction of Vidalia, Georgia, to build the 110,000-square-foot elementary school. It will cost $29.8 million and be completed by late March of 2024.

Pay increases likely across the district

Teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, coaches and school nurses could receive pay increases in the 2023 budget. Chief Financial Officer Bobby Smith presented an initial budget for the coming year. Salaries would make up 86% of the district's budget in the proposal, with a proposed increase in spending of $3.2 million.

In it, nurses' pay schedules would increase $5,000. Certified professionals, such as school counselors, social workers and audiologists, would receive supplements between $300 and $5,000. Teachers would see their pay rise by at least $2,000. Some of those increases come as a result of Georgia's 2023 budget, which set aside an additional $1 billion for education.

Ringing the bells at new times

The Richmond County School Board approved a proposed change to its schools' bell schedules, shown here.
The Richmond County School Board approved a proposed change to its schools' bell schedules, shown here.

Tardies have been rampant across Richmond County schools this year, a full 30% of students are arriving late, according to a presentation by Executive Director of Transportation Paul Abbott. School buses aren't dropping off students on-time either, and parents can't rely on the school bus app, he explained to the board. Abbott said high traffic and tight start and release schedules are causing the issues.

So why not change when the bells ring? The board agreed to revise start times.

Richmond County schools are divided into four tiers: first, second, third and magnet. First-tier schools will start five minutes earlier and second-tier schools will begin five minutes later. The approved bell schedule for the 2022-2023 school year will be:

  • First-tier schools, like Deer Chase Elementary and Butler High School, will start at 7:25 a.m. and conclude at 2:10 p.m.

  • Second-tier schools, such as Barton Chapel and Reynolds Elementary and Augusta Richmond Academy, will begin at 8:20 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m.

  • Magnet schools' bells will ring the start of the day at 8:30 a.m. and at 3:20 p.m.

  • Third-tier schools, like Belair K-8 and Spirit Creek Middle School, will begin their days at 9:20 a.m. and conclude at 4:05 p.m.

Alternative schools will continue to their existing schedule of 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

School safety, now with forensic software

"Devious Licks" pranksters be warned, Richmond County resource officers will have a new cyber tool at the ready this fall.

In the 2021- 2022 school year, some students across the area participated in the TikTok "challenge" to steal and vandalize school property. Incidents were reported at schools in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties.

Richmond County Schools Superintendent Kenneth Bradshaw wrote parents in October of last year warning them about the trend. "Any student caught participating in these activities will receive consequences based on the Richmond County Board of Education Code of Student Conduct and Discipline."

In April the board put out a bid request for an all-in-one forensic software package that was "built to extract, decode, and analyze data from multiple digital sources." Those sources include drones, media cards, cloud and social media services and smartwatches, to name a few. The board accepted a bid from Paraben Corporation of Gruetli Laager, Tennessee.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Augusta school board approves new elementary school and start times