BY SARAH STEPHENS
Elmore County School Superintendent Dr. Richard Dennis was on the agenda for the Elmore County Commission meeting Monday, with an update on COVID 19, and how the schools have handled the changes and impacts, as well as real numbers of students and faculty that have been diagnosed with COVID.
“As you know we have been in school for quite some time,” Dennis said. “Two weeks ago I was attending the State Superintendent’s meeting and there were schools that were preparing to open this week and next week for the very first time. We just sat back and chuckled a little bit because we are on week 12.”
As for enrollment established Oct. 5 – Dennis said there was an increase of approximately 22 students, and finished at 11,213. He said this was an increase, even though there were 94 kindergarten students the system felt they would have had if not facing the COVID Pandemic.
“A lot of people opted to keep their kindergarten students at home. We expect those students to return in the coming year, so we are addressing that from a state and funding aspect,” Dennis said.
Where finances are concerned, on behalf of the school board, Dennis told the Commission that they have been very fortunate.
“We tightened everything down in March in preparation for what we thought might be a loss of revenue. Elmore County has gone full speed ahead and our revenues are very positive. Taxes coming in on our side are very strong. In addition to that, the Federal funding we are receiving, we are maximizing at this point in time,” Dennis said.
From the standpoint of COVID, Dennis said the schools have been tracking numbers since Aug. 4.
“We have had total of 53 faculty that tested positive, and 124 students as of today. At this point, we have only had two employees actually hospitalized. To my knowledge, no students have been hospitalized. What we have seen on the student front is limited symptoms in most cases, a few running high fevers. Most were asymptomatic or very limited symptoms. The biggest issues and challenges…as part of public health, they have a tool kit that we publish on our website. As soon as those recommendations change we will actually implement them in Elmore county. Most recently they reduced some of the symptoms we have to react to, so we were able to bring some of our students back early that had been self-isolated.”
Per the guidelines, if a student or faculty member was in close contact with someone for more than 15 minutes that later tested positive, they had to be quarantined. Of the hundreds of those incidents where students or faculty were quarantined only two students have tested positive, Dennis said.
“So, it is something that is impacting our schools, but I will tell you that the virtual format has some real positive aspects to it. We set today as a deadline to make the transition one way or the other to help with scheduling, and we will go back into the high schools essentially and middle schools as necessary and reschedule as necessary. Based on the numbers that came back, we have about 1,000 students that have returned (from virtual school). We have 2,800 students that are left on virtual that are typically part of the traditional face to face school.
“What we are seeing, as for the support of some of the virtual students – They are lacking the support at home in many cases and it is impacting them. What we are able to do to better assist them, we are encouraging as many as possible to come back to school face to face. Or, they can attend tutoring we are making available to them.”
Moving on, Dennis talked about the multiple construction projects currently happening on school property in Elmore County.
“As far as construction, we are continuing ground work and nearing completion at the Redland site. At the Career Technical Center, it is the same thing. Groundwork should be finished shortly. At Elmore County High School, things are way behind but we hopefully will be finished around the second week of November. The new entrance is being bricked as we speak.
“At Holtville High School, which is an historic landmark, we are doing an enclosed foyer with a controlled front entrance in the center. We continue to work on perimeter fencing like other schools. Also, at Holtville, between baseball and softball fields, you will see a dressing room supporting baseball and softball teams, a real plus for us. At SEHS, the new roof is on. The foundation has started for the new band room and choral room there. We are excited about all of those projects. We have some new projects coming to announce in the coming months that we are excited about as well.”
The current projects, as well as those to come, are in preparation for tremendous expected growth within all Elmore County school systems.
“We expect some significant growth to the west side of the county, and we are seeing in the Holtville community now. There are some significant plans to address that in the next five years. That facility is older, and it will take a little more time and effort to correct that to prepare us for the next 20 years,” Dennis said.
In his final comments, Dennis talked about the Simplified Seller Use Tax (SSUT) also known as the online shopping tax.
“There are only three schools systems in the state that receive assistance from their county commissions from SSUT funds. Two are in Elmore County,” Dennis said.
“I just want to thank you. It is evident at meetings, I have people come up to me and they know that Elmore County is working together to accomplish goals. This is substantially significant for folks in Elmore County. As for per student expenditures, we are not next to last anymore in the state. We have moved up a little bit. This is certainly significant and we continue to try and plan for the future. Not just for the the programs and facilities, but for the personnel.”
Commission Chairman Troy Stubbs addressed Dennis on the evening’s report.
“I think for those of you who do not have children in the school system right now, as you can imagine, communication is vital. Many parents are always wondering what is happening at the schools. On social media, people make all kinds of absurd comments. I have children in the system, I have received a phone call every Friday for the last 12 weeks. It’s not a robot, but from Richard Dennis, with a recorded call. It tells me everything that is happening in the schools, how many students, faculty were affected that week. Then that whole phone call is transcribed and put on social media for everyone to read it. I think you are doing a tremendous job of making an effort to communicate those things and make sure everyone knows what is going on.”
Stubbs also talked about the SSUT funds, and explained how they benefit the Elmore County School System.
“We projected to receive $750,000 to come from that for the county last year, and committed 25 percent to the school systems. That would have been a projected $187,500. In reality, we received $1.271 million last year, so over $500,000 more than we projected. In turn, we provided over $300,000 in the last fiscal year to the Elmore school system. We conservatively made estimates this year. But we are seeing a tremendous growth there. We have committed on a per student basis, a portion of that 25 percent to go to Tallassee Board of Education, reflective of students that reside in Elmore County that attend Tallassee City Schools. We only do that in the event that we know that our school system is working in the fashion that it is. So, we commend you for that,” Stubbs said.
If you are parent with a child in the Elmore County School system, remember you should be getting calls each week. Follow the Board of Education on their Facebook page or visit their website at elmoreco.com.
To get reminders of new information: Another way to get the latest info from Elmore County Public Schools – Join REMIND Group @ecboeinfo
On your smartphone go to a web browser and go to the following link: rmd.at/ecboeinfo
then follow the instructions to sign up.
If you do not have a smartphone, get text notifications by texting this message @ecboeinfo to this number 81010 (or (971) 340-4183.