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Gainesville and Hall County school systems have endured strangely similar summers: Both experienced tragic bus incidents and opened sparkling new schools with price tags of more than $30 million.
Like systems statewide, Gainesville and Hall had to address these pressing matters under the weight of an additional 3 percent state cut to education, implementing three teacher furlough days and doling out pay cuts for all system workers.
Local educators said they managed to overcome these hurdles just fine, and are ready to fling open school doors this week.
Hall County schools start class today. Gainesville schools begin class Tuesday.
Hall County transportation director Jewel Armour said despite the vandalism of 14 school buses on July 14, all of Hall’s 270 buses are ready to roll this morning.
"Fortunately we don’t have that every year, so we had to take care of that on top of everything else," Armour said. "That took some extra time and effort. But we’re good to go."
Armour estimates vandals who slashed bus seats, stole breaker boxes and ripped out wires in bus control panels caused about $25,000 in damage.
Jerry Castleberry, transportation director for Gainesville schools, said the system acquired five new buses and purchased five used buses from Forsyth County schools to replace the nine buses lost in the bus yard fire on the last day of school in May.
Castleberry said he was surprised that replacing the burned buses went "relatively smoothly."
"We actually had to delay getting the buses in until the burned buses were removed, so it was a pretty quick transition," he said.
While others were working to get children to school safely, Flowery Branch High Principal Mark Coleman was overseeing the opening of Hall County’s newest and biggest school. The new $37 million Flowery Branch High School opens today.
Coleman said thanks to great planning on construction time lines by Hall Superintendent Will Schofield and school board members, the school was completed ahead of schedule.
"It’s been a very different summer from the standpoint of all the logistics of opening a new school and moving out of a school we had occupied for seven years," he said.
While high school students settle in for a new school year, Coleman said administrators still will be putting the finishing touches on the new building.
"We may have a few pieces of furniture that are still on the way," he said.
The new Gainesville Middle School makes its debut Tuesday. The $33 million building will be the home-away-from-home for more than 1,300 students this year.
Gainesville school Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said administrators did a wonderful job of opening the new school and getting it ready for students’ first day. She said it was completing the required paperwork for the system to receive federal stimulus package funding that was most trying this summer.
"That really gave us more manhours than anything," she said.
Dyer said she’s glad this challenging summer has come to an end.
"I, personally, am really excited this week to see children coming in to schools to remind us this is why we’re doing all this," she said.