As the Liberty County School System grows, so too does the need for bus drivers and teachers.
Speaking at the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s Progress Through People’s luncheon on September 21, school system officials continued to make a push to hire more school bus drivers. Some drivers, they said, can make as much as $60,000 a year.
The school system is offering up to $18 an hour, along with full benefits and free CDL training.
“You can make good money driving buses,” public relations director Cathy Lane said.
The system transports 8,600 students each day, covering 4,736 total route miles. The school system has spent $4.1 million to replace 50 buses over the past five years and purchased eight new buses for this school year. All school buses are equipped with air conditioning.
One of the system’s objectives is to recruit and retain highly qualified and effective staff. There is an 88% retention rate and the classified staff numbers 769 but school system officials acknowledged finding teachers now is difficult.
A strength-weakness- opportunity-threat, or SWOT, analysis of the system showed that poverty affects the schools. Of the 10,756 students, 69% are deemed economically disadvantaged and 71% are eligible for free and reduced- cost lunches.
There are also a growing number of students whose first language is not English, and the system has identified up to 15 different languages spoken by students.
Other important numbers have been going down, such as the millage rate, while others are increasing, such as the graduation rate. The school system’s operating budget for 2023-24 is nearly $139.6 million, with nearly 60% of it spent on students and their needs for education, and the millage rate has decreased from 16.358 four years ago to 15.25.
The state’s target graduation rate is 85% and Liberty County’s overall graduation rate is 91%. The system’s four-year rate is 90% and it is 93% over five years.
Of Bradwell Institute’s 332 graduates from the class of 2023. Scholarships totaling more than $565,000 were awarded to 92 students, and 140 students took 455 dual enrollment courses. Liberty County High School’s graduating class of 247 students had 80 of them receive scholarships, totaling more than $773,000.
In just this year alone, the school system has been awarded $10 million in grants, including nearly $3.9 million over the next four years for student mental health. The schools also received a $3 million L4GA — Literacy for Learning, Living and Leading — grant in 2020 which will last until 2025.
Schools at all three levels experienced double-digit gains in some grades and contents in last spring’s Georgia Milestones testing and some scores exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels.
Across the system, 5,100 breakfasts are served each day free of charge to students, and there are 6,300 lunches served.
Improvements in technology and security have been put in place, system representatives said, including the Centegix badge system, new intercom systems in the schools and the Kloud 12 cameras for classrooms, which also allow teachers to review how they conduct their lessons.
The schools’ technology installed new flat panels in 825 classrooms and 450 desktop computers were upgraded. To account for new enrollment, 400 iPads were purchased and 200 Chromebooks were bought.
New computers and buses are among the items that are obtained through the E-SPLOST, officials noted.
The school system also has extolled its dual enrollment programs, which is open to students grades 10-12 to take classes at Georgia Southern University, Savannah State University and Savannah Technical College.
“Another thing is our colleges are right here,” Lane said. “We have a lot more dual enrollment here than in some of our neighboring counties.”
In addressing the recent countywide planning session, Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry said the Liberty College and Career Academy is a sleeping giant and people from across the state come to Liberty to see its relationship with STC.
The LCCA recently received a $375,000 PRIME (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) grant from the Society of Manufacturing Engineering Education Foundation, which will fund training and supplies to enhance the engineering and manufacturing pathway. LCCA also was awarded a $417,000 heavy equipment operator grant for the new heavy equipment operator pathway, which will support workforce needs for the construction industry.
The Liberty County School System also was one of 15 systems to receive an Economic Development Partnership designation for the next five years, which highlights business and industry partnerships and aligns instruction. Junior Achievement has been introduced at the three middle schools to bolster economics education.
The school system also boasts having five military flagship schools.
“We have an excellent relationship with Fort Stewart,” Dr. Perry said.
School system representatives noted there are opportunities for the business community to get involved with the schools, from supporting its Day One activities on the first day of school, sponsorships of retirement celebrations and the teacher of the year recognition, reading in the schools and assisting with the McKinney-Vento Christmas celebration for the system’s homeless students.
Liberty County Schools also have partnered with the Savannah Ghost Pirates, the East Coast Hockey League team, for an evening and if enough tickets are purchased by Liberty County residents for that game, local students will be in charge of the pre-game festivities.
“I am so thankful I can lead a school district like this,” Dr. Perry said. “I am grateful to this community for what you have done to support us. We have good support from the community.”
Dr. Perry said that when he came to Liberty County six years ago, he wanted to build a school system the community was proud to have.
“I think we are there today,” he said. “Liberty County School System is one of the leaders in this state when it comes to education and I’m proud of that. Yes, we have some challenges, but they are not anything we cannot manage.”