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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Bibb School finance committee begins ‘very important work’ behind closed doors

Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting
Bibb Schools Superintendent Dan Sims, background, speaking in Tattnall Square Park recently during the first of a number of after school fairs held to promote school attendance.

Bibb County School Superintendent Dan Sims recently established a 40-member administrative committee to make recommendations about the district’s financial future in what was billed as a way to ensure “transparency, equity and efficiency in budget decisions.”

But the advisory committee’s meetings will not be open to the public and its formation was announced at a school board retreat that also was not announced to the public.

The retreat in late August was for board training, but apparently included the presentation of a new budget and finance advisory committee.

Attorney and open government advocate Joy Ramsingh wrote in an email the board can legally hold private training sessions without notice but “if, during the ‘training,’ the business of the agency was ‘formulated, presented, discussed or voted upon,’ that would be an egregious violation of the Open Meetings Act.”

“To remove any doubt, the board should provide the public with an agenda,” Ramsingh wrote.

District spokesperson Stephanie Hartley wrote in an email to The Macon Newsroom that “as long as actions are not planned, notifications and minutes of Board Retreats are not required to be shared with media.”

Documents from the board retreat were obtained from the district through a request submitted in accordance with the Georgia Open Records Act.

Asked why the district opted not to advertise the board retreat, Sims said, “A retreat is just that. I mean, if you think about the nature of retreat, you retreat, which means it’s just you. … It’s not for everybody, it’s for the board. That’s why we call it a retreat.”

Sims also said advisory committee meetings will be closed to the public because no official action will be taken.

“Opening it up to the public makes it something that is not intended to be,” Sims said. “This is not a time for (the) public to come in and be a fishbowl and impart their opinions. We solicited interest, we responded to that interest and as a result of that we have people who have volunteered their time to be a part of this very important work.”

Members of the new committee were selected from a pool of applicants who completed an online form disseminated to the public via the district’s website and “board brief,” a summary of board meetings the district sends by email to subscribers, Sims said.

Sims said the committee’s input will inform recommendations he will make to the board for what to prioritize in future budgets.

The committee serves to “better educate our community at large on our budget processes and priorities for the school district but also to have different perspectives at the table in order to assist in possible recommendations,” Sims said.

The committee’s first monthly meeting occurred Wednesday.

The inception of the committee coincides with the retirement of Sharon Roberts, the district’s chief financial officer since 2021. Sims said the district is advertising the job opening.

During annual budget meetings over the past two years, Roberts explained to the school board the urgent need for it to find ways to cut costs. Last May, at a called board meeting, retiring Superintendent Curtis Jones told board members he didn’t see a way around school closures.

The topic of school closures reemerged this summer as the school board deliberated on the district’s budget. The school board adopted a full rollback of the millage rate for the 2024 fiscal year, decidedly forgoing millions in local tax dollars in a move that all but guarantees cost-cutting measures including closing schools.

The district has been careful with its choice of words regarding school closures and has instead referred to the act as “rezoning” or “consolidation” of schools.

Sims said he’s open to exploring all possible ways to save money, “from reduction of personnel, to reduction of programming, to consolidation of schools, to increase in taxes, we’ve put everything on the table.”

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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