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HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING: Phillip Johnson, right, superintendent of Lanett City Schools, commended the school system’s new chief financial officer Gwyn Barnes, left, on having done good work in a short period of time.

City BOE holds public hearing for 2018-19

LANETT — On Thursday afternoon, the Lanett City Board of Education hosted an open budget hearing in the administrative office in downtown Lanett. It gave the public a chance to ask questions about the proposed spending plan for the 2018-19 school year. The final budget will be approved at Monday’s 5:30 p.m. regular meeting. All public school systems in Alabama must have a board-approved budget in the State Department of Education’s office in Montgomery by Sept. 15th.

“It’s a good budget,” said Superintendent Phillip Johnson. “It’s one of the best ones we’ve had in the last decade.”

Like most school systems, Lanett will be getting more money for the teachers and for technology. The budget will be buoyed by a $12,500 technology grant and a $38,950 professional development grant to help in teacher training.

Total revenue for FY 2019 is a little more than $9.5 million. More than $6.1 million of that, or around 64 percent, will come from the state. Federal revenue and local revenue will each account for around $1.6 million of the total, or around 17 percent.

In terms of expenditures. more than half, or around 54 percent, will be in the form of instructional services, or teacher pay. This is more than $5.1 million. Instructional support services will make up 14 percent of the total. or $1.3 million.

Around $4.2 million of the budget will go to W.O. Lance Elementary School, a little over $1 million to Lanett Junior High and $2.5 million to Lanett High.

With 605 students, Lance Elementary is the largest school in the system.

Lanett Junior High (grades seven and eight) is the smallest with 110 students while Lanett High has 235.

The system is remaining on a growth trend. “This is the eighth straight year our enrollment has gone up,” Johnson said, “and we like that. We’ve hired new teachers for seven years in a row. We have a great group of teachers. We are getting more and more applications. We’ve hired some teachers who have retired from Georgia, and we’re drawing interest from well-established teachers in Alabama. They like what they have heard about the students in uniforms and the politeness visitors are always receiving in the hallways. We want townspeople to realize that good things are happening in Lanett schools.”

One factor driving Lanett’s enrollment increase is the growth of the Latino student population.

Ten years ago,  Lanett had only three students who spoke Spanish at home.

Today there are 115.

In many cases, students who don’t speak a word of English when they arrive in kindergarten or first grade are fluent in the language by the time they are in the fourth grade.

Johnson said that Latino families are very involved in their children’s education, and he likes that. “Their parents will take off work to attend conferences at school,” he said. “They are engaged with their child’s education, and that’s good.”

Johnson said that Lanett is becoming something of a melting pot. “We have many more nationalities than we did ten years ago,” he said. “In addition to the growing Latino population, we have Asian students and even a Pacific Islander family.”

Johnson commended the system’s new chief financial officer, Gwyn Barnes, on having done outstanding work in the short time she’s been here. She succeeded Anita Bostick, who retired this past May. He also had some kind words for the school board. “They are very supportive of what we are trying to do,” Johnson said. “Most of them have been together a long time and work well together.”

Board Chair Gwen Harris-Brooks has been on the board since the late 1990s. Tony Edmondson, David Gagnon and Gail Holley have been board members since the early 2000s. Newcomer Katie Walton has been there for two years but has been an advocate for public education for much longer than that.

One of the major projects for this year is the renovation of the Verdis F. Bible Fine Arts Center, or Lanett High auditorium.

“We will have new seating, lighting and sound,” Johnson said. “We will have a sound booth in the back. It will be a great place for fine arts classes and performances. We’d like to have it finished by next May’s commencement. This board supports continuing renovation in the schools, but we have to be careful and do it within our budget. We also appreciate the support we receive from the mayor and council and from the police and fire department.”

Johnson said that the budget is something that’s closely watched.

By state law, public school systems have to have a one month’s operating balance in reserve. “Our reserve is close to two months,” Johnson said.