Axios Atlanta

Picture of the Atlanta skyline.

Welcome to Monday! If the week were an obstacle course, this would probably be the part where you army crawl through mud.

  • We will get through it together, friends.

☀️ Today's weather: Sunny with a high around 50. Temps could dip below 40 this evening.

Today's newsletter is 891 words — a 3.5-minute read

1 big thing: 🏈 Goooooooooo Dawgs

Photo illustration of Bryce Young, Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Jordan Davis.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: John Bunch/Icon Sportswire, Kevin C. Cox, Marianna Massey, Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

Tonight, the state will practically stand still as Georgia battles SEC rivals Alabama for the Bulldogs' first national championship since 1980.

Why it matters: The Bulldogs-Crimson Tide rivalry is one of college football's great feuds, with a record of Alabama leading 25-42-4.

  • The Georgia House of Representatives is starting — and ending — the first day of this year's legislative session early Monday so state leaders can head to Indianapolis

Stats: Kendall Baker of Axios Sports reports that the crowd is projected to be 61% Georgia fans, per Vivid Seats. And the top two cities for people traveling to Indy this weekend are Atlanta and Athens, per Airbnb.

When and where to watch: The game starts at 8pm on ESPN, ESPN+ and other options.

Get out: Like we said, nearly every TV in every bar will be tuned to this game. But if you don't have a favorite watering hole, here are a few options:

  • Midway Pub in East Atlanta Village: Enjoy an open-air patio and extra hot wings with scorpion pepper flakes to keep you warm.
  • Woof's Sports Bar in Armour Yards: The LGBTQ sports bar with nearly 30 TVs welcomes you with open arms.
  • Dugan's Restaurant and Bar in Poncey-Highland: Loud, large and always a good time. Go for the XX-hot wings.
  • Sports and Social at The Battery: Fans at the mega sports bar can expect a 32-foot TV, games and food.

Read the full story.

2. 🦠 State eases some COVID rules for schools

Magnets on a school locker in the shape of a contact tracing chart.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The state Department of Public Health has relaxed some guidelines for Georgia school districts in their efforts to fight COVID-19 in the classroom.

A letter sent Thursday by Gov. Brian Kemp and DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey says educators and school staff who are exposed to COVID-19 can return to work, regardless of their vaccination status or when they were exposed “if their employer deems it necessary to ensure adequate staffing.”

  • Teachers and other school employees who return to work will have to remain asymptomatic, wear a mask and comply with other quarantine requirements.

Why it matters: Teacher and staff absences due to COVID-19 quarantine or isolation guidelines can impact school districts’ ability to keep classrooms open for in-person learning.

The letter says that since contact tracing has become challenging for schools due to the latest surge, districts can now consider making contact tracing an “optional service.”

The intrigue: Cobb County schools, the second largest district in the state, will no longer perform contact tracing for all suspected or confirmed COVID cases. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale made the announcement Thursday at a called Board of Education meeting.

  • Cobb school board chair David Chastain told Axios the contact tracing process has some pitfalls, including some parents being notified of an exposure after the quarantine period lapsed.

The other side: Board member Charisse Davis told Axios she wasn’t surprised to hear that the district will stop blanket contact tracing because it “seems to be following more conservative strategies related to COVID.”

Read the full story.

3. 💵 Kemp proposes $5,000 pay raise as turnover hits record high

A close-up of Governor Brian Kemp talking to reporters
Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AP

Gov. Brian Kemp wants to give full-time state agency employees a $5,000 pay bump, plus other perks, to boost a workforce experiencing a record-high turnover rate.

Why it matters: In fiscal year 2021, turnover reached 23%, the highest rate on record, according to a report from the state Department of Administrative Services. It’s the sixth year that turnover has charted higher than 20%.

Details: In a letter sent Friday to state agency heads, Kemp said he was offering their “full-time, eligible benefit” employees a $5,000 pay bump.

  • The governor, who’s facing a primary challenge from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, also wants to make permanent a $5,000 cost-of-living-adjustment, increase the state’s maximum 401(k) match from 3% to 9%, and allow employees to withdraw up to 40 hours of leave as pay.

By the numbers: Millennials (described in the DOAS report as workers born from 1981 to 1997) and GenZ (born after 1998) are leaving state employment “quickly and in significant numbers," according to the DOAS report. "The [fiscal year 2021] turnover rate was 25.7% for millennials and 76.4% for GenZ,” it said.

  • Today, Georgia has fewer state employees than roughly 14 years ago, Kemp's letter said.

Catch up quick: State revenues are now running roughly $1 billion more than state lawmakers projected, the AP reported, leaving Kemp and budget officials with cash to spare, and in an election year.

Earlier this week, Kemp proposed a $2,000 pay increase for teachers.

What they’re saying: “I’m trying to keep count of how many groups we’re promising pay raises to,” House Speaker David Ralston, one of the state officials who will consider Kemp’s proposal, said at a Thursday press briefing.

Read the full story.

4. 📸 Pic du jour: 2.4 billion gallons and a great view

A group of bicyclists and walkers stand along a fence overlooking a reservoir made from a quarry with the city skyline in the background
Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios

👋🏻 Hi! Thomas here.

🚴 This weekend my friends and I biked to Westside Park, the new greenspace centered on a roughly 400-foot-deep reservoir that was once a quarry. Once built, the 280-acre park will be Atlanta's largest.

💎 The jewel of the park is the overlook of the former quarry and the city skyline, and on a clear day, it's a wonderful experience.

💭 My thought bubble: The park is beautiful and, with careful attention to park design, nearby community development and the quarry's history, could evolve into one of Atlanta's most special places as future phases are built.

5. 🍲 Five Points: Hot soup for you!

Illustration of a neon sign on a metal tower reading 5ish Points.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

😬 Roswell's mayor apologizes after scolding a city official for not congratulating him for winning the election. (AJC)

🗺 New BeltLine interactive maps show project spending and changes in population, rent and density. (Urbanize)

🏫 APS wants to demolish a historic school in Lakewood Heights to build ... nothing. (Saporta Report)

🚜 Georgia fruit growers are concerned that warm winter temperatures will hurt this season's crops. (AJC)

🥣 Come and get some soup! (Eater)

Axios Atlanta asks "What is seen in the middle of March and April that can’t be seen at the beginning or end of either month?"