Last week’s Gulf County school board meeting was a tale of
goodbyes, some with great sorrow.
The absence of Brooke Wooten, due to the death of his father, a retired Gulf County educator, bespoke the tone of the July 22 meeting, as did the announcement by several board members about beloved members of the community who passed away in recent days.
The retirement of Martha Weimorts, a longtime teacher and administrator in the county, added some sweet to the sadness, as did the prospects for the 2021-22 school year.
The meeting began with a hearing to pass the proposed 2021-22 budget, which went smoothly. The millage rate will go down very slightly, from 6.263 to 6.208 mills, a drop of less than 1 percent. (See attachment)
The largest millage component, required local effort, which the district is mandated to levy to access state funds, will drop a hair, from 3.662 to 3.631 mills.
Each district is permitted to levy 0.748 for discretionary spending, and voters have supported an additional one-mill operating levy for over a decade. Neither of these will change.
The one component over which the school board has a say is local capital improvement dollars, and that millage will drop from 0.850 to 0.829 mills.
The school’s tax base is just shy of $2.298 billion, a 13.52 percent boost over last year, and 31.44 percent over 2019-20. As a result, the proposed tax levy will bring in about $12.7 million in property tax monies, about $1.45 million more than last year.
The school board voted 4-0 to approve the budget plans, with Wooten absent. His father, Clayton Wooten, was a retired educator, many of his years spent as principal of Wewahitchka elementary and high schools. “Clayton’s wife, Sara Jo was an integral part of Gulf District Schools for more years than I can even count, and she remained a devoted caregiver to Clayton throughout this difficult season in their lives,” said Mary Lou Cumbie, in her comments to the board. “Brooke shared with us that thankfully, Clayton’s family was able to be by his side as he peacefully passed early.”
Wooten's memorial service will held Friday, July 30 at 11 a.m. CT at the Wewahitchka First United Methodist Church.
Cumbie also spoke of the death of Port St. Joe businesswoman Shirley Ramsey, a longtime supporter of the schools.
A memorial service for Ramsey will be at 10:30 a.m. EST, Friday morning, July 30 at Long Avenue Baptist Church of Port St. Joe, followed by visitation with family in the fellowship hall. The service will be live streamed through the church’s Facebook page.
Superintendent Jim Norton shared that David Cuttino, 66, a former commander of the Port St. Joe Navy Jr. ROTC unit had perished in a plane crash in Fernandina Beach.
Board member Marvin Davis shared that funeral services were to be held at the high school Saturday for Port St. Joe resident Darryl Dawson, and that another classmate, James Finn, was battling a serious illness in the hospital in South Walton.
The school board bid a warm goodbye to Weimorts, who is retiring as of July 29, and moving with her husband of 42 years, Kenneth, to Richmond, Virginia, to be with her son Tyler’s family, recently grown with the birth of grandson Grayson, and daughter Jessie, who is getting married in March.
A native of Choctaw County, Alabama, Weimorts earned a business administration degree in 1979 from Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama, and then moved with her husband to Port St. Joe.
She began her career in education in Franklin County., and then in 1985 got a position in Port St. Joe teaching computer applications, after earning a masters in computer education from Nova Southeastern University.
She continued to teach at Port St. Joe High School, and finished her career as assistant superintendent for special services.
Because her maiden name is Norton, the superintendent said “people always talk about my sister or sister-in-law,” although there is no relation. He said his brother first met Martha Norton when he was playing a baseball game at Livingston.
“Thank you for leadership, the continuity you brought to it,” Norton said. “I know for the last year or two you’ve had a chance to train your protégé.”
Joni Mock, who replaces Weimorts at the district office, said “I’ve worked with her from day one and I’ve always looked up to her from day one.
“We’ve always had a good time,” said Mock. “I’m going to be sad to see her go and I’m going to have big shoes to fill."
Josh Dailey, the new assistant superintendent of business and human resources, said “she’s been great, fabulous and it’s been an honor to work with you. You’ve definitely made a difference in all of our kids’ lives.”
Board Chairwoman Cindy Belin praised her longtime friend and colleague. “I’ve watched you firsthand and I know everything you do is exceptional, there’s no halfway, she said, noting in passing, with a smile, that some have considered her “nosy.”
Weimorts offered a spirited reply. “People may think I’m nosy but I really have a thirst for knowledge,” she said. “I just want to thank you all for a wonderful career.”