A good portion of Monday night's Cartersville City School Board meeting was devoted to the district's 18 retirees, including Superintendent Dr. Howard Hinesley, who was presiding over his last meeting.
Hinesley, who's ending his 49-year career next week, is the longest-serving educator in a group that has a combined 526 years of service in the education field.
"They've done an excellent job, and while we would like to be able to do more, we certainly want to let them know how much we appreciate their years of service and the wonderful things that they've done, not only for the children they've served but also for this community," the superintendent said.
He was among the eight retirees who were able to attend the meeting and receive an engraved clock from board President Kelley Dial: Warren Gilmer, 15 years; Donna Gravley, 24 years; Scott Smart, 24 years; Jo Holmes, 27 years; Garvin Edwards, 30 years; Jane Linahan, 33 years; and Tommy Boston, 35½ years.
Also retiring were Terry Bangert, 19½ years; Beth Adams, 20 years; Jackie Smith, 20 years; Tracey Morris, 26 years; John Gridley, 28 years; Pam Ragan, 28 years; Cathy Smith, 30 years; Margie Patton, 31 years; Robert Allen, 40 years; and Russ Schmidt, 48 years.
"I feel blessed that I was able to be hired by Cartersville City Schools and to have a career here," Smart, a school psychologist, said. "I never wanted to leave. I do want to retire, though."
Hinesley said Edwards, a PE teacher at the middle school, has his commercial driver's license and filled in many times for bus drivers on regular routes, field trips and overnight outings.
"Never charged us," he said. "I don't know of a single person who's ever done that. He never submitted a bill. He thought that was a part of his service to the school system and to the community."
"I've never met a more agreeable, a more helpful group of people than what I've worked with here from the top down," Edwards said. "I never felt like we were held back or held down. I felt like we were allowed to move our programs forward and given the assistance that we needed."
Last but not least, Dial presented a clock to Hinesley, who had written down what he wanted to say.
"My experience here in Cartersville has been extremely rewarding for me personally," he said. "I worked hard to honor the commitment I made to you during my five-hour-plus interview in the spring of 2005. With your support and leadership, I leave the school system in a strong position both academically and financially."
Since he was hired, the system has increased the graduation rate, Advanced Placement offerings, dual-enrollment and arts opportunities and special needs programs and services; expanded career and technical education courses; and provided additional options for struggling students, Hinesley said.
Financially, the district has the "lowest millage rate in the past 17 years" and a strong financial balance, and paying off a $32 million bond debt in 10 years has left the school system debt-free, he said, noting all these accomplishments were achieved "during the most difficult time our school system and state has experienced."
He also detailed how the Cartersville Schools Foundation, which awards the GateKey Scholarships, has increased its bank account and how teacher salaries have grown over the past 13 years.
"None of these accomplishments could have been made without the leadership of this school board and the support, loyalty and attention to detail of the hard-working administrators, teachers and staff in this system," he said.
He also added as superintendent in Cartersville and Pinellas County, Florida, he attended an estimated 873 work sessions and board meetings and 225 school foundation meetings in 28 years.
As a symbolic changing of the guard, Hinesley passed down three of his tools to his successor, Dr. Marc Feuerbach: a superintendent's crying towel that has "held many a tear," a push button that says "no" in many different ways and a pin that says, "It's always the superintendent's fault."
CSF President Lisa Bell then announced that one of the existing GateKey Scholarships, a program that he started in Florida and brought with him to Cartersville, was going to be designated the Howard Hinesley Founder's Scholarship.
"It's going to be a perpetual scholarship so we're going to identify one of the students that we have just signed as the recipient of the first Howard Hinesley Founder's Scholarship," she said. "He will hold that until he graduates, and then it will pass on to another student."
The first recipient is rising sophomore Abel Espinoza, brother of Andy Espinoza, a GateKey Scholar who's very special to Hinesley and whom Bell called the "poster child" for the program.
"That is great," Hinesley said. "I appreciate that very much."
Each board member also took time to express his or her appreciation to the retiring superintendent.
"I've often said that [voting for Hinesley was] the best vote I ever made on the board," an emotional Dial said. "I think the measure of someone is if they leave somewhere better than when they got there, and I think you've certainly done that."
Board member Tim Chason called Hinesley "a visionary," while Pat Broadnax said he was "a treasure."
During the business session, board members addressed the fiscal year 2019 budget as well as several other agenda items.
After no one showed up at the second public hearing, the board unanimously approved the FY19 consolidated budget of $53,759,647, which includes a general fund budget of $41,109,000 as well as special revenue, school nutrition and capital projects, exactly as it was presented at the May 14 meeting.
The general fund budget is up from $39 million in fiscal year 2018, primarily due to a state-mandated increase in the Teacher Retirement System and step increases for eligible employees.
In other business, the board unanimously approved: