School Board begins budget process

photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

The Macon County School Board met on Monday for a budget meeting prior to the regular board meeting. Superintendent of Macon County Schools Dr. Chris Baldwin began by explaining how the budget has undergone transformation since 2008 with a steady decline in funding due to various factors such as salary increases, teacher benefits packages, retirement, the number of teachers in the county and overall expenditures for needed repairs. Reviewing the budget line by line, the numbers indicate that the board will see plenty of challenges meeting the needs of the district. The class size amendment will have a big impact on the number of teachers that will be needed in 2021-2022 school year.

Principals’ Wish Lists
Principals submitted their wish list for what they deemed most important and for many, it was more teaching positions. Elementary schools share an art and music teacher right now and the request was to provide a teacher to be on staff full time at each elementary school to teach art and music. That would be an addition of four teachers since the four they have now rotate between schools. Several schools were in need of more kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade teachers. Depending on the enrollment for next year’s kindergarten class, teachers might be able to move from kindergarten to first grade if enrollment in kindergarten is under 15 students. That number won’t be available until the first week of school. South Macon and Iotla Elementary have two kindergarten classes right now but might only need one in the fall so a teacher can move up to teach first grade, dodging the need to hire a new teacher. STEM teachers were also requested at South Macon and Iotla Valley.

Student mental health a concern
A discussion regarding mental health ensued. Ten mental health positions were requested overall for MCS. School board member Fred Goldstein said that students who were involved in sports were less likely to suffer from mental health issues. He explained that although not every student is sports minded, many enjoy music and art which can also be therapeutic and help guard against mental health issues.

School repairs
Repairs were next on the agenda with several areas that need immediate attention. The fuel tank in the school bus garage is in violation and needs to be replaced at the cost of $128,000. Todd Gibbs, director of Secondary Curriculum and Auxiliary Services, explained that not only is it dangerous for the tank to be used without attending to repairs, there would be a steep fine that the state would impose if they do not make the necessary repairs. The HVAC system at Highlands School was also in need of repair and should be a priority along with the leaking windows. That cost would be $500,000. The East Franklin Elementary roof still needs to be partially replaced to the tune of $50,000. Several kitchen ovens and steamers are also in need of replacement at several schools which will cost a total of $84,000.
The Macon Middle School (MMS) and Franklin High School (FHS) track was up for discussion once again. Goldstein again pointed out that the board has been discussing this issue for five years and something needs to be done. The big issue facing the repair of the track at FHS is the problem of flooding from the parking lot which means the drainage problem would need to be fixed before the track can be repaired or redone.

Board votes to increase Pre-K fee;
adds locker rooms to MMS reno
The Macon School Board began their regularly scheduled meeting with a discussion regarding the mental health of Macon County School (MCS) students. Since there has been a rise in the number of MCS students needing mental health services, a discussion regarding the benefits of art and music, as an intended supplement to mental health, arose. Maggie Jennings, founder of Maggie’s Music Academy, and stay at home mom, explained to the board that art and music are outlets for many students and can help decrease the need for mental health services among students. Board member Fred Goldsmith agreed that the arts could be a precursor to avoiding mental health issues as do sports. Having had requests for 10 more mental health counselors in Macon County Schools, reviving the arts may be a less costly way to ensure positive mental health for many students.

Pre-K private pay to get first
increase in over five years
Carol Arnold, Consultant for the Homeless for Macon County Schools, spoke about the Pre-K program at the three elementary schools. There are 41 slots in the Pre-K program of which, 31 are private pay. These students go to class from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days per week and, receive a free breakfast and a snack. The tuition is $389 monthly. This cost has not been increased for more than five years. Arnold expressed concern that with today’s rising costs, MCS simply cannot afford to operate within this budget. Jackson County charges school employees who have a child in Pre-K at their schools, $500 month. Working parents who do not work in the school system are charged $600 monthly. Other day care programs such as Great Beginnings charges a fee of $550 monthly. MCS will need to raise the fee for private pay from their $389 monthly to $450. The board voted and agreed to the increase. The increase will not take place until the fall of 2020. Even with this price increase, MCS would still be charging the lowest fee within the surrounding counties. Those eligible for Title 1 and other services will not be affected by this increase. Arnold pointed out that the Pre-K program provides both academic needs and child care for working parents. She wishes the program could be expanded to meet the need of MCS students and parents.

Macon Middle School (MMS) Multi-Use
facility finally coming to fruition
MMS will finally be getting a locker facility that will allow students to have separate boys and girls lockers, showers and dressing rooms. This multi-use facility is currently undergoing contractual steps with Ritter Architecture PA. The hope is for the facility to begin construction in early spring. Chairman Jim Breedlove said, “they will move forward will all due haste.” Other building repairs at MMS will get under way this summer and into the next school year under the contractual agreement with Narmour-Wright Design PA.