While the Simpson County School Board still remains silent on their specific plans for building new high school facilities in the county, they did approve, as part of the minutes for last Thursday’s meeting, a resolution declaring a need to lease school facilities.
At a previous meeting the school board did vote to give the board attorney authority to bid on the Pioneer property in Magee as a high school site for $2 million and the other buildings on the same property for $975,000. This was done through executive session.
Regarding the lease, proper legal notification was published in this newspaper’s legal section that would have allowed for petition by either 1,500 or 20 percent of the county’s residents, whichever number is smaller. No organized opposition was presented to the board so the matter passed.
This allows the board to sell, lease, lend or grant or otherwise to proceed with acquiring up to ten new school buildings. Should funding be needed for the buildings, the passage of the lease agreement allows the board to fund these projects through district maintenance funds.
The County Board of Supervisors used the same process when the new legal complex that houses the jail was built on Old Highway 49. It was built, leased and paid for by the county, and the county was able to avoid a tax increase to pay for the new facility because it was leased.
The school board’s action would allow for up to ten new buildings being built as part of the school facility. The agreement allows the superintendent of schools the authority to solicit proposals for funding.
At the same meeting, board members were told that Covid numbers continue to climb in the school district. The first two weeks showed ten positive staff members compared to a total of nine in the period of August through December of 2020. Fifty-four students have tested positive compared to 23 during the same time period last year, and nine staff members have tested positive thus far compared to 12 last year. There were been 269 student quarantines the first two weeks compared to Aug. through Dec. of last year at 81.
Nurse Judith Jones, COVID coordinator for the school district, reported that if a student or staff member is diagnosed with the new “D” variant once and have quarantined, that person would not have to quarantine again.
Superintendent Toriano Holloway reported that the D variant is much more contagious than the original virus and that the launch of band and sport activities could likely require even higher numbers of quarantines.
The board approved their annual budget with all sources of funding at $29,344,783.20. This includes federal, state and local sources. Locally the budget request is $10,394,873. This request is made to the Simpson County Board of Supervisors, who are statutorily required to fund the school board’s request.
Dr. Holloway presented findings to the board regarding teacher/student ratios. Magee Elementary has students through grade five and Mendenhall is through grade four. Simpson Central Elementary includes through grade four. Magee has a 20.96 student to teacher ratio with 27 teachers. Mendenhall’s ratio is 19.57 students to 23 teachers, 19.57 students per teacher. Simpson Central has a ratio of 17 students per teacher in grades one through four.
Simpson Central grades five through eight has a 18.86 student to teacher ratio. Mendenhall Jr. High grades five through eight has a 20.06 ratio, and Magee Middle, grades six through eight, is 18.44.
Magee High School has 416 students with 21 teachers, resulting in a 19.81 teacher-to-student ratio. Mendenhall High School has 563 students with 28.5 teachers for a 19.75 ratio. It should be noted that the students from Simpson Central go to Mendenhall as they move up into high school.
Simpson Central’s lower student to teacher ratio could be an indicator as to why Simpson Central’s achievement scores are typically higher than those of other schools in the county. Holloway pointed out that the difference could be one of the factors but not necessarily the only reason for better scores.
Superintendent Holloway got the approval of the board to research getting a school resource officer to make two law enforcement officers available to the district.
It was noted that students who are transferring from home school to the public school system are typically two years behind their contemporaries who have attendd public school. Testing is required before a student can be transferred from home school back to public schools. Thus far, it is estimated that 75 students have transferred back, and many of them came from Covid-19 related issues before returning to public schools.