Lembeck told more than 100 club members at the annual State of the City Address, held at the First United Methodist Church in Marietta, more students were graduating, many with honors and college credit, test scores were improving, and teachers were getting paid more effectively.
These accomplishments have been a long time coming, Lembeck said, and the close-knit school system was working hard to ensure another year of success.
“It takes time for change to happen,” she told the crowd.
Test scores, graduation rate up; change in demographics
In 2013, 18 percent of MCS third- through eighth-graders exceeded the minimum state standards on the CRCT (criterion referenced competency tests) last year, Lembeck said, an increase from 5 percent in 2012.
The system’s graduation rate also increased by 5 percent, from 62 percent in 2012 to 67 percent in 2013, Lembeck said.
All this while the district grew by 1,000 students in the last four years, she added.
In 2012, the district had 8,466 students, and grew by 413 students in 2013, Lembeck said.
The extra students each have their own needs, and roughly 65 percent of them live in poverty, she said.
“It’s a microcosm of real life. The diversity in the school system prepares you for real life, and for college,” said member Judge Joan Bloom, a municipal court associate judge in Acworth.
Lembeck hopes the Franklin Road redevelopment project will help to stabilize the system’s fluctuating population.
The large amount of rental property in Marietta leads to a high transiency rate in the area, with students coming in and out throughout the school year, Lembeck said.
In the next three years, Lembeck predicts a number of new students will join the school system, with the addition of 731 planned homes and apartments to be built in five development projects.
If there is an influx of students, the system might open another school in that area, Lembeck said.
“I’m hopeful the Franklin Road changes will help increase test scores and decrease transiency rates; this is good for the district,” said Kiwanis member Alice Summerour, an attorney in Marietta, past president of the Marietta Kiwanis Club and a members of the Marietta Board of Lights and Water.
Austerity cuts, debt still linger
Despite not receiving nearly $37 million in state education funding since 2003 because of state austerity cuts, Lembeck said the system’s budget looked solid going into the 2014-15 school year.
Marietta Board of Education decided to defer salary increases for teachers, and not spend extra money on extra educational programs, so as to better cope with the state cuts.
“We are hopeful that the governor’s proposed funding for schools comes to fruition,” Lembeck said, although nothing was certain yet.
A bond issue by the district in 1998, and refinanced in 2008, has left the district with $15.2 million of debt, carried over from that original bond issue, said Thomas Algarin, spokesman for the district.
“I would have really liked to stand before you today and tell you we are debt-free,” Lembeck said, but she hopes funds from SPLOST IV, approved by voters in March, will generate enough funds to pay off the debt.
The one-cent sales tax is expected to generate $55.4 million in funds for Marietta City Schools, according to the district’s website.
Marietta residents’ millage rates will drop for a second year in a row this July, Lembeck said, from 18.682 to 17.97.
In 2013, the millage rate was 19.157, which means the taxes owed for a $200,000 house would have been $1,456. In 2014, the millage rate decreased to 18.682, and that millage decrease amounts to a savings of $36, said Algarin. In July, the millage decrease to 17.97 will result in another $54 on a $200,000 house, he said.
Good news for taxpayers, kiwanians
A laptop program sponsored by the Kiwanis Club has “changed lives,” Lembeck said.
In a year and a half, the Marietta Kiwanians raised $65,000 to sponsor laptops for Marietta High School juniors.
The club purchased 25 laptops for students last January, and another 20 this fall.
Ashley Hayden, a senior at Marietta High School and the Air Force Junior ROTC Group Commander for her unit at the school, thanked the crowd for her laptop, which has helped her entire family.
“My computer helped my mom get into college,” she said.
Hayden added her younger siblings also used the laptop for their homework, which helped them better manage their time and do better on school assignments.
Students who received laptops no longer had to wait in line at the library to do their homework on public computers, said former club president Bobby Tharpe. Having the freedom to use the internet everywhere gave students and their families more opportunities to achieve, he said.
“Benefits came out of this we wouldn’t know exist,” Tharpe added.
Top teachers in the district
In the 2015-16 school year, Marietta City Schools will transition to a new method of paying its teachers, the first district to make such a drastic move. Lembeck said eyes of educators statewide will be on the district to see how the implementation goes.
Teachers are currently paid on a scale that weighs years of experience in the classroom and level of education teachers have received.
The new system will now allow teachers who perform well in the classroom make more money sooner in their careers.
Marietta City School teachers will be paid based on their success in the classroom, and if they decide to return to school for advanced degrees, the system will help pay for their degrees, Lembeck said.
Twenty-four teachers and students from the district’s 12 schools and one central office administrator were recognized by the Kiwanis Club on Thursday.
Residents fully behind the system, proud to be a part
Marietta Kiwanians were proud to be aligned with MCS, and they lingered at tables, decorated with schoolbooks and apples, after the speech.
“There’s an atmosphere in the city system that any parent would want for their children. It’s like a family,” said Tharpe.