By P.J. Tracy
At the May 12 South Pike County School Board meeting it was announced that graduation for the Class of 2020, pending final clearance in the COVID-19 pandemic, will be held on Saturday, July 18, 10:30 a.m. at Rattler Stadium.
School Superintendent Brad Sullivan told the board the students had requested a traditional graduation ceremony, prompting the scheduling of the tentative date and venue. Both sides of the stadium could be utilized to help with social distancing.
He added that Murfreesboro High School Principal Davey Jones was also required to submit a “plan b” option that may include either a virtual showing of the ceremony or a drive-by ceremony should pandemic restrictions not relax by the mid July date.
In addition, Sullivan told the board that over the next three month the administration would be looking at contingency plans for the start of school in the fall.
“We don’t know how it will look and we are discussing options,” said Sullivan.
He said that instruction via iPad may well become more important via videos from teachers should the six foot social distancing still be in effect, leaving room for 12-14 kids per classroom and perhaps forcing the need for staggered attendance by grade during a weekly schedule.
Sullivan said the school was “in a good place,” being positioned to utilize virtual instruction “to do the things we need to do … we’ll have to look at everything differently going forward.”
It was stated that the district would need to further build on the ability to instruct students with the technological resources — namely iPads — that they currently have. While the electronic medium was utilized after the pandemic shutdown, the question remained of how to assess instruction. Students were given credit for all work completed while not in school for the final part of the semester, but no actual new instruction was being provided, something that will not be possible at the start of next school year if educational progress is to continue.
Bussing and the cafeteria are two other school functions left currently up in the air at the moment.
“It’s been weird to be at school with no students, and without the end of school banquets and traditional activities … I hope we can just get back to normal, but we have to be prepared if not.”
Sullivan next told the board that it was “good news” that the MHS and MES roofing project would gain partnership money from the State Board of Education, funding some $736,000 of the $1.3 million dollar project.
Both projects could be done at once, and a contact had to be in place by November 2021 and completion of the project by May 2024, giving the district a very comfortable timeframe.
While had admitted he hadn’t looked for partnership money to complete the project, it seemed that several projects that has been prospectively funded by the state were rejected after proposed millages by school districts to fund the projects were rejected by the voters, leaving South Pike County as a fortunate beneficiary.
“We’ve put it off as long as we could, but now we can look at [completing it] sooner than later,” said Sullivan, stating than an architect’s visit to draw up a plan began late last week. “It was a blessing to get the new, for future projects are in danger with the state of the economy.”
Sullivan said that the waxing of school floors had begun earlier than normal, with the upper elementary having already been completed.
“This year we won’t being finishing it up right as school is about to start and teachers have to get their classrooms ready,” he said, noting that the school had gotten a better price on the waxing service as well.
The board was also told the field house renovation was “coming along” and “well on track” with metal roofing being installed, while still falling around the $15,000 budget.
Sullivan also noted that the district’s weekly feeding program, which has been ongoing effort since the closure of school to the pandemic, officially ended last week, but would receive some reimbursement leaving the district to “come out in good shape.”
Board member Sarnia Minton inquired about the possibility of the district free and reduced meal participation increasing in the coming year.
Sullivan said the district could be in better place for numbers, noting that the district benefitted greatly from being above the 70% threshold, and should it fall below that figure the cuts would be noticeable, from over $900 per child to $480 per child.
SPC Director of Program Tanya Wilcher updated the board on the “device refresh” project with Apple that supplies the iPads for instructional use.
Stating the school tried to upgrade the equipment every two years, Wilcher said that Apple was currently offering its best deals, further noting that as Apple Distinguished Schools SPC could be the beneficiary of the current crisis and also get the devices in before the start of the the 20-21 school year.
Under pervious contractual deals, the school was paying $165,075 per year for iPads for MHS, MES and teachers. The new contract, which will get all parties on the same payment schedule, will get new identical iPads for the students (800) and MacBooks (70) for the instructors for $152,862 per year over the next three years with a 0.9% finance rate (2.9% previously). The MacBooks will be on a four year lease.
In addition, the district will receive two free “AppleCare” repairs per device per year, saving much of the $5,000-$6,000 per year spent on broken equipment. Wilcher said that the currently policy had the school making the first repair payment, with the parents of the student bearing the cost of the second and third, with the final third strike also being the loss of device take home privileges.
After selling all the used equipment for approximately $120,000, the school would net approximately $60,000 should the sum be used to make the final installment of $59,970 on the previous existing contract.
Also included in the deal will be cases for all devices, with the school already having carrying bags for all students except those in K-3.
“We will be saving money and starting over all all new, identical equipment,” she said to the board.
It was also discussed that should proposed stimulus money be provided to better prepare for the next pandemic — possibly $130,000 — the school could invest in things like an antenna on both the Murfreesboro and Delight campuses to allow for drive-up wifi access as well as possibly hotspots in busses.
For the current school year, the board approved a personnel policy revision that eliminated the payment of two “personal” days for each campus employee. After a poll of workers saw 81.6% of them vote to forfeit the payments that were still outstanding, the action will save the district $4,300.
The board approved the 2018-2019 audit report by a unanimous vote.
After a short executive session, the board approved the resignations of first year instructors Charlotte Tipton (5-6 grade), Alison Dye (5-6 grade) and the retirement of custodian Carol Lingo, a 33 year employee of the district.
Dye said in her resignation that she would be moving to the Broken Bow, Okla. school district, and both she and Tipton thanked the district for an opportunity and support in the first year of educating professionally.
Tipton stated that “I have learned much more in this one year than I did in my whole time in college!”
Lingo said in her letter that “I have loved every single year I have been employed here and have appreciate the opportunity that was given to me. After 33 years in one place, you can not help but feel like this is your family.”