SCCS officials stay course on new school location

Another Social Circle BOE member resigns

The Social Circle Board of Education remains committed to its deal with the city of Social Circle for land on the Social Circle Bypass for constructing a replacement campus for the district.

On Thursday, Social Circle landowner Michael Hornsby emailed Carrie Booher, superintendent of Social Circle City Schools, with a new offer on his property on West Hightower Trail.

Hornsby’s email confirms his land had been considered in negotiations as one of the possible sites for the elementary school project before the SCBOE elected to take the city’s offered deal for a no-cash land swap bargain to acquire the needed land for the new school construction project.

Horrnsby’s new offer was to essentially donate, at the legally required but essentially symbolic cost of $1, 32.47 acres of his land on Hightower to the system expressly for the purpose of building the new SCES campus.

Hornsby argued he agreed with former SCBOE Chairman John Callahan, who resigned in the wake of the land deal decision last week, as well as current board member Steve Trantham, both of whom argued in the July 17 SCBOE meeting against the city’s land deal for reasons of safety and financial concerns.

“Their arguments were most convincing and I was moved by Chairman Callahan’s sacrifice of resigning the job he so loved in protest,” Hornsby said. “I was, in fact, so moved and in agreement that the site on the truck by-pass is undesirable for safety, cultural and financial reasons that I was compelled to make this proposal.”

Callahan, who was copied on Hornsby’s email along with The Walton Tribune, said he felt the counteroffer was an excellent deal and hoped the board would take it in lieu of the city’s offer.

“I’m completely blown away,” Callahan said. “Mr. Hornsby clearly loves our community and our children. The SCBOE can pull out of the deal with the city as the BOE is in due diligence and the deal with the City of Social Circle has not closed yet.”

Callahan said the counteroffer also gave the SCBOE enough time to secure the Hightower Trail land in time to still gain access to available state funds for construction before next month’s deadline.

“The SCBOE also has time to get the deed to the land in this most generous offer in time to get the money from the state by Aug. 15,” Callahan said. “The money saved here for the SCBOE can be used to the benefit of our students.”

Callahan urged the board to correct what he saw as a mistake in selecting the city land deal and take Hornsby’s counteroffer instead.

“I see absolutely no reason why this deal can’t happen, if the BOE is willing,” Callahan said.

Unfortunately for both Hornsby and Callahan’s hopes, the SCBOE did not prove willing.

While the district did not offer any comment on the deal, which as a real estate matter is reserved for closed session discussion away from the public eye, district officials did confirm the offer had been received and it was presented to the SCBOE Thursday night in closed session during the board’s monthly work session.

The board ultimately took no action on Hornsby’s offer, electing to continue forward with its agreement with the city of Social Circle.

In the wake of that move, Trantham, who had joined Callahan in opposition to the city land deal, ultimately offered his own resignation Friday morning.

Trantham posted a copy of that letter on Facebook, in which he explained his objections to the current city offer and why he felt his resignation was necessary.

“I regret the recent contentious nature of the board discussions since the city’s proposed land exchange debate,” Trantham wrote. “I believe we have been gas-lighted from inside and outside our board and many subjective arguments representing conflicting interests have entered our executive sessions as well as our private conversations. 

“I continue to be adamantly opposed to this agreement to exchange land that the City of Social Circle has exhorted as being at NO Cost to the taxpayers. The numbers speak for themselves and at least one superior option exists that involves the donation of 32-plus acres of land previously vetted by our experts as a great site for our new elementary school. That is what I call NO Cost. The Vice Chair refused to even consider my motion to accept this extremely generous donation by moving it to executive session during my motion even after it had been publicly shared with The Tribune and yourself, prior to our meeting.

“This option remains open if the board acts immediately to accept this generous offer and exercises the current due diligence period that ends August 1st, 2023. Anything less constitutes malfeasance in my mind.”

Trantham cited the board’s policy of avoiding public disagreements as one reason he could not stay on the board in the wake of the land deal decision.

“Our board is bound by oath to maintaining a united front speaking as a single body by our Code of Conduct,” Trantham said. “Going forward I cannot abide by this Code of Silence that conflicts with my conviction for the safety and sound financial stewardship of the district’s resources largely behind closed doors with potential conflicted interested parties present. I cannot in good conscience continue to maintain my oath to this board.”

Trantham said he feels the board is currently more interested in silencing dissent than considering the best deal for the safety of students and the financial benefit of the school district.

“As of 7/27/2023, elected dissenting viewpoints on our board are denied the right to speak publicly,” Trantham said, once again accusing Vice Chair Sabrina Sanford-Flint of refusing to consider his arguments.

Trantham said he feels the voters of Social Circle should remember this deal and take it into account going forward to the next school board elections.

“It’s my hope that the community at large will thoroughly investigate the upcoming ballot of candidates and identify the best representatives and chairman for their children’s schools based on the best interests of our children and taxpayers before the coming election in November.”

Trantham, a retired educator who taught in the Social Circle City Schools district for 12 years, was elected to the board in 2019.

He was up for re-election this fall before his sudden resignation Friday morning.

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