Despite several agreeing it wasn’t a perfect answer, Barrow County school leaders approved a transportation schedule that would flip school starting times for the elementary and middle and high schools for the 2020-21 school year.

The move passed with a 6-3 vote at the board of education’s Tuesday, June 2 video conference meeting. Board members Stephanie Bramlett, Bill Ritter and Garey Huff voted against the change.

Under the changes, the district’s elementary schools will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2 p.m., shortening those schools’ current days by 30 minutes while also giving teachers additional planning time and bringing them more in line with the planning times at the middle and high schools. The four middle schools will start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m., while Apalachee and Winder-Barrow high schools will go from 8:30 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy (BASA), the district’s third high school, which is slated to open in August, will start at the same time as the elementary schools and end at 3:05 p.m.

Several board members described this as an arduous decision.

Beverly Kelley, who represents District 4, said she “lost sleep over this” trying to weigh all sides of the issue. Lisa Maloof, from District 3, said after multiple conversations with teachers and administrators she ultimately decided “it might be a good time to do this.”

Huff, out of District 2, however, referenced recently-released state guidelines on reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic in the fall as another “curve” thrown at parents and students for the start of next school year. He wanted to keep schedules “as close to as they currently are with the transportation system.”

Even with the passage of the schedule change, Bramlett, who holds the District 9 at-large seat, hopes to work on a resolution to balance the discrepancy between the starting times for Apalachee and Winder-Barrow high schools and BASA.

Barrow County Schools superintendent Chris McMichael was agreeable to the suggestion, saying schedules within schools “are fluid within the time constraints.”

“I can’t promise you it would change sitting here right now, but I definitely think we’re open to taking a look at it and seeing if there’s a better way to make that work,” he said.

McMICHAEL BRIEFLY ADDRESSES RE-OPENING

McMichael said the recommendations for opening school in the fall sent by the DOE had already been considered and discussed by the county’s school leaders in their conversations for the upcoming school year. But McMichael said he’s “not comfortable” yet with saying how county schools will open for 2020-21.

“What we all want do to is open the first week of August, as we have planned, and hopefully, we’ll be able to do so as close to normal as possible,” McMichael said. “I don’t think we’ll be normal by any means.”

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business Tuesday, the board:

•approved a spending resolution for July for just under $13.1 million to keep the district operating. That money includes all funds except debt service and capital projects. Jennifer Houston, assistant superintendent for business services, has told the board it won’t be able to adopt a Fiscal Year 2021 budget in time due to schedule changes and economic uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The district is still waiting to see what impact the pandemic will have on its state funding before officials can craft a final proposed budget. Houston has said a spending resolution may need to be approved for August as well. The resolution allows for 1/12 of the prior year’s amended budget for all funds to be spent.

•approved the purchase of replacement and new security cameras at schools across the system from TechOptics in Winder at a cost of $151,632.

•approved outsourcing bus repairs to a pool of vendors, which is estimated to have a financial impact of $250,000-$270,000 in FY2021. 

•approved an $80,062 bid by Georgia Specialty Equipment for replacement lunch tables at Westside Middle School and Statham Elementary School, where cafeteria renovations are scheduled for this summer.

The board also heard that the school system received just under $1.13 million in education local option sales tax money in May.

Board chairman Lynn Stevens said she hoped the board’s next meeting, scheduled for June 16, will be conducted in person.

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