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Fighting both cancer and COVID, Thompson says it's been a battle

This fun-loving pastor’s wife refuses to let cancer slow her down. She just got back from a family trip to Las Vegas where she celebrated the end of her 20 weeks of chemotherapy, her 25th wedding anniversary and the birthdays of two of her three daughters. Oh, there was no gambling.

“We’re not gamblers,” she laughed. Melissa Thompson and her family went to Vegas for the food and to see the sights. She said it was a great release for what has been a difficult year.

“With all the COVID craziness, it has been difficult for everybody,” Thompson said. “This year has been difficult for us too, so we rolled (all of our celebrations) into one and just ran away.”

This Covington mother and grandmother comes from a family with a history of ovarian, cervical, uterine and breast cancer, which claimed the life of her beloved grandmother. But Thompson said she had always been perfectly healthy and had been getting her mammograms on schedule.

Such was the case March 26, when she went in for a routine mammogram.

“We found this tumor,” she said. “It was stage 2B. There are four different stages to cancer, depending on the size of the tumor. They have a lot of different tests. They study the aggression of it and how much it has spread, so mine was a stage 2B, so about the middle point, I guess... It was purely on the mammogram. After seeing it on the mammogram and coming home, I could not find this spot myself because it was so deep in my tissue. I tell everybody to get your mammogram. If there’s a woman in your life you love, tell her to get a mammogram.”

And then Thompson started praying.

“It was one of the hardest prayers I’ve ever prayed in my life — I was submitting knowing this is the will of God,” she said. “And the hardest prayer was praying, ‘Lord, let it be well with my soul.’ You get a diagnosis like that and it almost feels like a death sentence. So many people pass away from cancer, so I was terrified. So I had to pray no matter how this journey goes, let it be well with my soul.”

For her daughters, it brought back sad memories of caring for Thompson’s grandmother until she died.

“They were children then, but it’s still in their memories and they were pretty upset,” she said. “...My family — they were shocked and pretty devastated.”

Thompson and her husband waited to get word on her biopsy report and decided to wait a few weeks before they told their children.

“Immediately, we just locked arms in our living room and began to pray together,” Thompson said. “Then we let our church know, and I had everybody pray over me with oil. (There are) multiple churches in this area and two that are part of prayer groups who have been praying as well.”

Some minister friends gave her a prayer cloth.

“I’m a pastor’s wife,” she said. “I have always had a strong faith in God. Early on, I held onto I John 5:4, that those who are born of God overcome the world and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. We can overcome anything in this world and it is by our faith. I have clung to that verse knowing I could overcome it.

“I slept with the prayer cloth under my pillow. I told my oncologist when I come back with this mammogram, they are not going to be able to see this cancer. He was like, ‘Hold your horses.’”

And indeed, when she went back, they were unable to detect the cancer. She had an ultrasound and again, no evidence of cancer.

“God is good,” she said. “My faith has carried me through a lot of this. God has been so good to me.”

By this time, however, Thompson was well into her chemotherapy treatments, having already completed four of 20.

“So I had to continue the treatments and finish the program to make sure there’s nothing else,” she said. “The thing about cancer is when it’s in your tissue, it’s so microscopic and comes back. We’re just trying to do everything we can to prevent that.”

Such prevention is the reason Thompson has decided to undergo a double mastectomy later this month.

“There are what they call infected cells and the damaged tissue is there, so we don’t want any chance of recurrence,” she added.

Her oncologist, Dr. Frederick Flynt with Piedmont Newton does a lot of work with genetics and Thompson said with her being a third generation of females with cancer, she began working with his office on testing. She had genetic testing done.

“Because of the research and studies they do, they were able to test 84 genes for any evidence of cancer,” Thompson said. “That’s incredible because just a few years ago, they had only a few genes to be tested. There is no evidence in my genes. I needed to know that for my girls.”

Thompson was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which is invasive ductal carcinoma, and is not fed by female hormones.

“What we decided the best approach for me, for my situation is we did the genetic testing and found no evidence for that,” she said. “My chemo treatment — they call it the red devil. I said because I’m an anointed child of God, you ain’t putting no devil in me! So we called it the Red Sea water... I had four rounds of that and then every other week and then had 12 weeks of Taxol through a port. That’s where I am now.

“Literally about six weeks ago, the FDA approved immunotherapy for my breast cancer... so I was able to start those treatments. In very layman’s terms, it recognizes the cancer cells and will begin to attack those so that no other cancers will show up in your body. Dr. Flynt was very excited I was able to start that. With that I have about seven more rounds to do after my surgery.”

Thompson said another reason she decided to have a double mastectomy is her type of cancer is so aggressive.

“It greatly reduces the chance of recurrence,” she said. “With the double mastectomy and immunotherapy, right now they’re saying the recurrence is 2% or less. I like those odds.”

Her surgery is Oct. 21, and Thompson says she knows recovery will be difficult, but she is looking forward to getting through her next challenge and heal.

During her cancer ordeal, Thompson also came down with COVID.

“I had chemo and I had COVID when I was in treatment,” she said. “I didn’t have to be in the hospital, but it was pretty intense. COVID is rough. It was pretty scary.”

She said both took a toll on her body.

“Chemo has been rough and my body has been through a lot,” she said. “I say God has been good to me, but I have had some bad days. I’m ready for my body to be healed and have all this behind me. I’m really ready to get my hair back. You don’t realize how much your hair matters until you don’t have any... It has started coming back now, but it’s just fuzz.”

For many years, Thompson and her husband have been warriors in the fight against cancer. They have long been involved in the Newton County Relay for Life and for the past two years have served as leaders for the county.

“We do that because we believe in the cause,” Thompson said. “But we never thought it would be our personal journey. We have served cancer survivors in the community, but never realized I would become one. It’s all the more reason to rally for the cure. It’s been wonderful to have our Relay for Life community to rally around behind us and support us too with their words of encouragement.”

Thompson grew up in Canton, and joined the U.S. Army after graduating from high school. She served two years, but then fractured her spine in two places while on active duty. She was honorably discharged with a service connected disability. Thompson and her husband, Daniel, who had taken a job in Newton County, moved their family to Covington 23 years ago. She has been a school bus driver for Newton County for 15 years and coached softball and cheerleading in the community.

In 2015, Pastor Daniel Thompson and his wife started a new church in Porterdale. Pathway Church is non-denominational and Mrs. Thompson says as a pastor’s wife, she helps out with whatever is needed. She is happy that their three daughters are also part of the church.

Daughter Kristohn Petty, 25, and her husband, Joseph, are the parents of Thompson’s granddaughter, Magnolia Jean Petty, nine months old.

“It’s all her snuggles and kisses and smiles that get me through every bad day,” Thompson said. “She’s perfect, I tell you.”

Daughters Emily Thompson, 22 and Melanie Thompson, 20, are students at Georgia State University.

“We’re a very upbeat family with a great sense of humor and a sense of adventure with our faith as our core,” Thompson said. “We worship and serve the Lord Jesus Christ with everything in us. Cancer has been one heck of a battle, but we haven’t lost our sense of humor or adventure... I have a wonderful family and if it wasn’t for my family and my faith, I never could have made it through this journey... I’m not done yet. There’s still a long journey ahead of me, but I expect I will see as many miracles and as much healing as I already have.”

Breast cancer patient Connie Brickell counts her blessings

For fifth-grade teacher Connie Brickell, finding a lump in her breast during a self-examination left her stunned.

“I was very shocked,” the 56-year-old Covington mother of two recalls. “I discovered the lump, but it’s such a story because I think God had such a hand in it. I was supposed to have a mammogram in October of last year. Due to COVID, it got canceled. It was reset for the beginning of March, but got canceled again because something came up for the doctor, so we were going to do it at the beginning of April. It was mid-March when I found the lump.”

Two weeks later, Brickell was in her doctor’s office and says, “Dr. Garrett was on it.” Her physician, Dr. Veronica Garrett, began the process that would help Brickell navigate the difficult path of fighting breast cancer.

“When I told Dr. Garrett, I mean it was just a quick turnaround of time,” Brickell said. “I was getting a mammogram and she was setting me up with a surgeon. I was in a state of, ‘Oh, my word.’ I have just had the very best doctors. The very best care. It’s really been crazy — what it does to you mentally and physically. But everybody has been so positive and so encouraging, that I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

Brickell, who has no family history of breast cancer, says doctors told her it was great she caught it early. She is thankful that she did that self exam and found her problem right away because she realizes there are so many people who have suffered much worse.

“I have blessings,” she said. She counts her doctors and her care among those.

“It was just a matter of days and the ball was rolling,” Brickell said. “It was April 23 when I got the results of my biopsy. That’s when they made the diagnosis. Invasive ductal carcinoma. Within four days, I had an appointment with the surgeon, Dr. Gayla Dillard at Piedmont Rockdale. She was wonderful.”

Dillard, a longtime surgeon, was recommended to Brickell by Garrett.

“She said, ‘We’re going to put this all together and there’s nothing for you to worry about,’” Brickell says Dillard told her. “Everybody has just taken me to the next step.”

In her first meeting with Piedmont Rockdale oncologist Dr. Chandar Bhimani, Brickell said the doctor spent more than an hour talking to her and her husband, Greg.

“He was very encouraging,” she said. “He said I was stage one and in excellent health, good shape physically. He took all this time telling us the options.”

Bhimani explained Brickell’s cancer was not hormone-based and was HER2-positive, which is an aggressive form of breast cancer. He then set forth a plan for Brickell, which began with chemotherapy treatments followed by surgery, then radiation and concluding with maintenance.

“I have finished the chemo and am scheduled for surgery Oct. 8,” Brickell said. “That’s going to be my next big step. They’ll go in and get clear margins and pull lymph nodes to see that it hasn’t spread. Based on negative results, the plan will be my plan of continuance. If they find something, that can change. Dr. Bhimani said you never know until you get in there.”

As she prepares to undergo a lumpectomy, Brickell says she has a feeling of confidence and hope.

“I just have to say, I have felt God in this whole thing,” she said. “I don’t know why I got this. I can’t dwell on the whys. Dr. Bhimani was right when he said dwelling on the why is something you may never know...You can’t sit in that woe-is-me. You’ve got to think positive. Attitude is everything in your treatment, he said.”

Brickell said everyone she has been in contact with from her first doctor to the ladies in the infusion center where she now goes have all been positive and encouraging people.

“It’s always focusing on tomorrow,” she added. “Focus on the next step. Don’t go backwards. You’ll fall in a pit, and it serves no purpose. Positive energy. Positive people. A sense of humor.

“The whole thing with my hair falling out, I thought I’d be good with it, but it was hard. I have really super thick hair. It started to fall out 12 days after my first treatment. I was drying my hair and just pulling it out. I said, ‘I’m going to shave it. It’s crazy to hold onto this.’”

Brickell said her family, coworkers and her students have all been encouraging.

“The kids at school are fantastic about it,” she said. “For me, it’s all about that positive energy. Hair will grow back. I’m just making the best of it now.”

The students have also been sensitive to what Brickell has been going through with her treatments. Depending on her chemotherapy schedule, Brickell would feel better at times than she would at others.

“The kids were amazing,” she said. “When I was feeling bad, they could tell and say, ‘This is her low week.’ They would be quiet. They would make up for it the next week. But it tells you their heart.”

A teacher for more than 30 years, Brickell teaches fifth grade at Mansfield Elementary School. At the start of her career, she taught one year in middle school, but soon realized that was not her “niche.” The next year, she began teaching at Livingston Elementary, where she taught until she and Greg began their family. For the next 16 years, she taught at Palmer Stone Elementary until it closed and Flint Hill opened. She taught at Flint Hill before going to Mansfield Elementary, where she has now taught for six years. Except for that one year teaching middle school, all her years of teaching have been in fifth grade.

“I just love that age,” she said. “They are old enough to think on their feet. Witty enough to catch your jokes and things like that. But they’re young enough they’re still very respectful and want to learn. They’re motivated.”

While Brickell was diagnosed near the end of the last school year, she decided not to tell her class. Her first chemo treatment was a week before school was out.

“It had been such a yucky year for them,” Brickell said. “They were in and out, virtual, the masks, socially distanced, couldn’t do activities. I didn’t want them to end their year with that, so I didn’t tell them.

“But this year, I had to tell them right away because I have no hair... When I finished my last chemo on Sept. 9, I came back to school Sept. 10. I felt good that day. My door has been decked out with signs. I opened my door and my room was an explosion of pink. The kids had made the breast cancer symbol and put it on lanyards. The entire school was decked out in pink that day. There were balloons, cupcakes, doughnuts. There were homemade cards. People brought me things. The little kindergarten class walked by and gave me the thumbs up. They were absolutely precious. They were amazing. My administration has been super, super supportive. I have missed on my chemo days but really tried to be in school, and I’ve shared with my students. I don’t share the icky details. They know enough. They’re great.”

Born in northern Minnesota, just a few hours from the Canadian border, Brickell graduated from Bemidji State University ready to teach, but said there were no teaching jobs there. She and her husband met in college and he too had graduated and was also ready to teach. They both went to a job fair where the Newton County School System was participating.

“It’s actually kind of a crazy story,” she said. “That’s when ‘In the Heat of the Night’ was a big deal... Newton County (where the TV series was filmed) had a big display, and we stopped by because we liked that show. The guy took our resumes, and we kind of talked to him a little bit.”

Mrs. Brickell was hired to teach in Tulsa, Okla., and she and her husband had a U-Haul packed and ready to head West, where he had family in Colorado and friends in Oklahoma and where she would begin a new job. However, Newton County school officials called Brickell’s parents’ house and told them they had jobs for both Connie and Greg Brickell. They drove their U-Haul South and moved to Covington in 1990, and Mrs. Brickell says, “The rest is history.” The Brickells were newlyweds, had just graduated from college and both were teaching in Newton County that fall.

Mr. Brickell retired this past year after 27 years teaching in Newton County schools, primarily at Cousins. He worked for a short time at Veterans Memorial and after his retirement, helped start a new program for Putnam County schools.

The Brickells are the parents of Haley, 26, a registered nurse who works in Augusta, and son, Heath, 23, a recent graduate of Georgia Southern with a physics degree who is working as an engineer at Clairon Metals in Covington. Both are graduates of Newton County schools.

As their children were growing up, the Brickells were busy helping with Boy Scouts; Heath is an Eagle Scout. They volunteered with their kids’ sports teams and supported Haley when she was involved with clogging and Heath when he was in community theater. The family continues to enjoy biking, kayaking, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities.

“I’m looking forward to camping,” Mrs. Brickell said. “We’ve also got a huge garden.”

She says her family has been “amazing” in their love and support for her during this time.

“My children didn’t know in the beginning,” Brickell said. “Heath was graduating. He had finals with graduation coming. I wanted that to be his moment and not in my shadow. We waited a few days after his graduation to tell them. Of course, they were very upset as your mind goes from A to Z, thinking this is going to be it. But at that time, I had information and I could tell them it was going to be good and what was going to happen. When they saw me and I was still mom, still me and everything was OK, they were OK. They were part of the shaving of the head and all the laughing and funny hair shapes. I think that put them at ease. My daughter’s a nurse, so she said, ‘I want all the details.’”

Brickell said she has been blessed throughout her ordeal and is grateful for all the calls, cards, visits, texts and support from family and friends, including those friends from their church, Epiphany Lutheran Church in Conyers.

“I have a very strong faith,” she said. “I have felt the prayers. I just have felt like I’m in a net and there again, that idea of I don’t blame God. I feel there is a purpose for this. I don’t know the purpose. I’m not sitting here trying to figure out the purpose. God has a plan. But in this situation, I feel like I’ve been carried through it. The timing of everything has just been mapped out.

“I don’t know how to really say it, but it’s a horrible situation — not something you want anybody to go through. But if my purpose is to show people that with early detection, you can alleviate so many other issues and if you follow what the doctors tell you to do, your experience can be so much different. I don’t know why, but I really feel that God has carried me.”

Read Pink: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

What’s it like to fight breast cancer in the midst of a pandemic? Covington resident Melissa Thompson can tell you. Another breast cancer survivor, Connie Brickell, can tell you how important it is to keep your health screenings up to date, in spite of COVID-19. Both of these women have courageously shared their stories with the Citizen this week for our annual Read Pink edition. They know how important breast cancer awareness is, and they want to share that message with others. You’ll find their stories inside this edition.

The Citizen is once again publishing our Read Pink paper to remind women throughout the community of the importance of early detection and preventative measures. And in spite of other things that may be happening in our world, the importance of this message never diminishes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer remains the second most common cancer among women in the United States. Black women and white women get breast cancer at about the same rate, but Black women die from breast cancer at a higher rate than white women.

In Georgia, 130.9 of every 100,000 women will be diagnosed with cancer each year, based on the most recent data available.

Early detection is key. According to the CDC, mammograms are the best tests for early detection. When breast cancer is discovered early, women have more options for treatment, better chances for survival and a higher cure rate.

Most women who are 50 to 74 years old should have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, or think you may have a higher risk of breast cancer, ask your doctor when to have a screening mammogram. Some things may increase your risk.

The main factors that influence breast cancer risk are being a woman and getting older. According to the CDC, there are risk factors you and change and others you cannot.

Risk Factors You Cannot Change

♦ Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.

♦ Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

♦ Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.

♦ Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.

♦ Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting brea♦ st cancer.

♦ Family history of breast or ovarian cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.

♦ Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (for instance, treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.

♦ Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the United Sta♦ tes between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.

Risk Factors You Can Change

♦ Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.

♦ Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.

♦ Taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.

♦ Reproductive history. Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.

♦ Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.

Research suggests that other factors such as smoking, being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer, and changes in other hormones due to night shift working also may increase breast cancer risk.

Some warning signs of breast cancer are:

♦ New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).

♦ Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.

♦ Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.

♦ Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.

♦ Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.

♦ Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.

♦ Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.

♦ Pain in the breast.

Other conditions can cause these symptoms. If you have any signs that worry you, call your doctor right away.

De'Anna O'Brien named NCSS 2022 Teacher of the Year
  • Updated

COVINGTON — Eastside High School special education teacher DeAnna O’Brien is Newton County School System’s 2022 Teacher of the Year. O’Brien will now represent Newton County Schools in the Georgia Teacher of the Year Program. O’Brien’s prizes included $1,000 cash and a crystal vase from the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, $500 cash from Covington Ford, and a dozen red roses.

Samantha Greco of West Newton Elementary School and Clayton Hammonds of Veterans Memorial Middle School were this year’s runners up. They each received a crystal vase award from the Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

“One of my colleagues told me this would be a very surreal moment, and I can’t think of a better way to describe that now,” said O’Brien. “Thank you so very much. This is an incredible honor. The 23 of us sitting up here I think would all agree that being able to be a part of other people’s children’s lives is the most incredible honor that any of us could have any given day. But to be able to represent my colleagues in Newton County is incredible.”

O’Brien also expressed her appreciation to her family and her colleagues.

“I want to thank my family for putting up with being a teacher’s family and giving up a lot of their time so I can get my job done,” she said. “I was joking when I left school today that for my particular position it’s not about being a teacher of the year, it’s about being a team of the year and I have two incredible parapros that walk beside me each and every day, every step of the way. We are an incredible team, Ms. Maria Hardeman and Ms. Sande Jackson and myself, and I cannot do my job without them. What touched me the most when my colleagues voted for me to represent Eastside High School and what it meant to me was that they noticed my kids. My students who have had disabilities their entire life who often sometimes will go unnoticed — they noticed my kids. Not only did they notice them but they noticed how amazing they are. And to be have been named a finalist I think what spoke to me is that the panel heard their voices through my essays — my students sitting in my classroom in Eastside — their voices were heard. And for them to come in and watch a classroom was I’m sure as much fun for them as it is for us every day, because you never know what’s going to happen. I hope what they took away from that is that absolutely anything is possible. No matter who you are, no matter what your obstacles are in front of you, every child in our school system is amazing and they have amazing possibilities. And the 23 of us sitting up here, that is what we do each and every day. We make their disabilities disappear and their abilities appear so that when they walk out into your world and into our community they can do whatever they dream possible. Thank you so very much, this is an absolute honor.”

Prior to joining the Eastside High School team, O’Brien taught in both the Morgan County and Rockdale County school systems. She also taught hospital bound patients with traumatic brain injuries at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. She earned her bachelor of science in special education from Georgia Southern in 1995 and is currently working on her master’s in education from the same institution.

Newton County’s Teacher of the Year program would not be possible without the support of the community. As a result, the Newton County School System and the Newton County Chamber of Commerce expressed special thanks to the Chamber Champions, sponsors of the 2022 Teacher of the Year program: Abbey Hospice; AT&T; BB&T; Beaver Manufacturing; Bridgestone Golf; BD; City of Covington; Covington Ford; The Covington News; Facebook; General Mills; GPTC; Ginn Motor Company; High Priority Plumbing; MAU; Newton County Government; Newton Federal Bank; Newton County Water & Sewer; Nisshinbo Automotive; Northside; Oxford College; Piedmont Newton; Pinnacle Bank; Qualified Staffing; SKC, Inc.; Snapping Shoals EMC; SteelCo; Sunbelt Builders, Inc.; Synovus; Takeda; Tread Technologies (Michelin); United Bank of Covington; The Center; Newton College & Career Academy; Edgar Law Firm, and Newton County IDA.

For more information on the Newton County School System Teacher of the Year program, contact Sherri Partee, director of Public Relations for Newton County Schools at partee.sherri@newton.k12.ga.us.

Rockdale Republican Party supporting effort to exempt seniors from school taxes
  • Updated

CONYERS — The Rockdale Republican Party has joined forces with the Rockdale Voter Group to collect signatures on a petition to exempt senior citizens from the maintenance and operations portion of school property taxes.

“We are joining with the Rockdale Voter Group to promote a petition to lower taxes for our most vulnerable citizens, our senior citizens,” said Larry Cox, chairman of the Rockdale GOP, in an email. “School board property taxes in Rockdale County are out of control, and our seniors can’t afford to continue to pay these outrageous taxes any further.”

Supporters of the effort are asking residents to sign an online petition at therockdalevoter.com supporting an exemption for residents 67 years of age or older. Once a sufficient number of signatures has been gathered, the petition will be presented to the local legislative delegation along with a request for introduction as local legislation in the General Assembly. If approved in the Legislature, an exemption initiative could then be placed on a ballot for Rockdale County voters to cast a “yes” or “no” vote.

The Rockdale County Board of Education recently set the school portion of the property tax bill at 22.717 mills, the lowest rate in more than 10 years. Most school systems in Georgia have a millage rate cap of 20 mills; however, years ago Rockdale voters approved a referendum allowing the school system’s millage to be set as high as 30 mills.

A number of counties in Georgia already offer some type of age-related exemption on school taxes. In addition, Georgia mandates a school property tax exemption for homeowners age 62 or older whose household income is $10,000 or less. Eligible taxpayers receive a $10,000 exemption from the assessed value of their primary residence for property taxes levied by any school district.

Several counties in the state — including DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Clayton and Fulton — offer a 100% exemption for seniors although all but Clayton place an income limit on the exemption.