Our View: Archives received needed extra funding

Published 5:08 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2019

In April, Shannon Gavin Johnson of the Troup County Archives spoke to the Troup County School Board, requesting an increase in annual funding from the school system.

Johnson’s presentation broke down the cost that the archives spends on storing, maintaining, preserving and pulling records each year for the school system.

The presentation made it clear that the school system has not pulled its full weight for those services, and the archives was spending a lot more on TCSS records than the school system was actually paying.

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The school board heard that concern and agreed to increase its pay during last week’s board meeting. Now, instead of paying $30,000 a year, the school system will pay the archives $98,410 for its share of the annual budget — which is right in line with what the City of LaGrange and Troup County pay.

For those wondering, that was always the plan. All three entities — the city, county, and school system — were supposed to provide the same funding. However, LaGrange and Troup County have provided nearly 30 percent of the archives’ funding for many years, while TCSS has been providing about 9 percent of the archives’ total funding.

Up until that vote, TCSS was getting an incredible bargain, one that was financially unfair to the city, county and the archives. The school did the right thing in upping their contribution.

In her presentation, Johnson said that the archives spent $67,471.41 on staff hours just on school records last year.

The school system only paid $30,000 for those services, and that $67,471.41 number doesn’t even factor in the cost of shredding, utilities, storage and other needs.

To add on, the school system also has more records than any other entity. Although many on social media have argued that it can’t be that difficult to maintain the records, we can’t help but be blunt in response — yes it can.

Anyone who has been to the archives could tell you that.

The archives estimates it would cost the school system $300,000 a year to maintain the same records, so even with the increase, the school system is still saving more than $200,000 a year by partnering with the archives.

And no, it isn’t as simple — or even within the boundaries of the law — to find a dumpster and throw out old records. It’s also not as easy as snapping one’s fingers and digitizing everything in one fell swoop.

Files such as transcripts and grade reports have to be maintained permanently. The archives has individual cumulative files, transcripts and grade sheets available for all public Troup County Schools dating back to the early 1900s.

To put that in perspective, hundreds to thousands of students graduate from local schools each year, and the archives manages transcripts for all of those students dating back more than a century.

That’s quite a few permanent records.

The records are also required to be kept in physical form due to preservation needs and legal retention requirements, per the archives.

Many of the transcripts are digitized, but the archives doesn’t have the manpower or resources to digitize everything. Plus, records are always coming in, so it’s a constant uphill battle to digitize old records while managing new ones.

In last week’s vote, the school system also voted to pay a one-time payment of $187,091.91 to support renovation of Fort Georgia, where the archives stores records.

Fort Georgia is close to running out of space, but this one-time payment will help add mobile shelving, which will triple the amount of space available. The archives estimates there will be space available until at least 2058, if not longer.

Any time the school system spends such a large amount of money, some in the community point fingers and wonder why those funds didn’t go to a project at their child’s school, or why an old textbook wasn’t replaced. While it sounds that simple, it isn’t.

The school system has a $118 million budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and many of those services are essential.

Record keeping is not only legally required, but it’s a service that needs to be done correctly. Imagine not being able to get a school transcript for a job interview.

It’s also clear that the school system has been receiving a great bargain — paying a fraction of the cost it would take to do the same job. Increasing the funding was the right move, as was the one-time payment.

Both ensure the archives can continue doing its job managing, maintaining, preserving and storing important records for this community for years to come.