The 2020-21 school year won't begin Aug. 5 after all for Cartersville City Schools.
Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach announced at Monday night's school board meeting that the first day of school will be pushed back a week to 10 days to give teachers, who are contracted to return to work July 29, a chance to "prepare for the possibility of an unpredictable school year by participating in professional learning as well as preparing their classrooms for social distancing and lesson plans for a range of learning models," according to a news release.
"We're not doing it because of coronavirus," he said at the meeting. "We're doing it because our teachers need at least 10 days of professional learning before we start this year. We think teachers were superheroes for the last nine weeks of last school year. Teachers are about to be superheroes for an entire school year, and we've got to figure out how to help them with that process. So I'll be recommending a later start date for that purpose."
The superintendent said the school district will "hopefully by the end of this week officially announce" the detailed plan for reopening the schools, including a date for the delayed start.
"We know [parents] need something," he said. "We know that they need a date. We all need it. I'm a parent. I'd like it as well. But it's very important not to commit too early and then you have to back up, and things become very confusing."
District officials and school administrators have been working diligently during the past few months to gather information from state and local governing officials, health care providers and CCS parent and staff surveys in an effort to craft the wisest and safest plan possible for getting kids back into the schools.
"We're committed to finding a safe way to open and minimize as many distractions as possible for our kids because that's our ultimate goal," Feuerbach said. "There isn't a teacher in our system, there's not a staff member in our system, that does not want to see our kids, but we want to see our kids the right way, and whatever we do, we want it to work, and we want it to last and not be in the same boat two weeks later because maybe we didn't do it the right way. So that's the guidance and the wisdom we've been seeking over the past few months."
The district has been investigating a variety of options for returning to class, including a hybrid model that would only have half the students in the building at a time.
"We need to be wise in what we do," Feuerbach said. "So we're really looking at that hybrid model, yes, to implement during the school year, but reality is, maybe it will be wise for us right now, as our numbers have increased a bit in our area. Maybe we start that way, we introduce it that way. Our classes would be half the size for three weeks and probably put a tentative date of after Labor Day then to, hopefully, bring everybody back."
No matter what the plan ends up being, it's important to Feuerbach to "slow roll this" until everyone gets comfortable with it, "and then you go full speed," he said.
"I just think it's the wisest thing for us to do as a system," he said.
The superintendent also is stressing to administrators, faculty and staff that it's "very important that our message is one of calm and hope."
"That is the most important thing for kids and families, that things are calm and that we give hope," he said. "Right now, there's not a lot of calm, and there's not a lot of hope when you turn on the news. I'm committed to providing that this year."
CHS Principal Shelley Tierce shared details about Friday's graduation ceremony with board members, including changes that have to be made due to the pandemic.
"Several things will be different," she said. "We just really don't have a choice. We will not be able to have Hurricane Alley this year, and I know that's one of those traditional things that I love, too, but we can't because the kids can't stand close together."
Tierce said the staff still has to "figure out the ending to our graduation this year because they know they can't come together on the C and throw their caps together."
And nobody will be allowed on the field after the ceremony is over.
"That's been another thing I know is disappointing for taking pictures, but we just can't have everybody out there all at once on the field," she said.
Not being able to shake hands or hug the graduates is "going to be the hard part because you're going to want to hug them," Tierce said.
"I may be giving elbow bumps or something," she said. "I don't know. I haven't figured it out yet. It's just a tough situation."
She also is strongly encouraging everyone to wear a mask when entering and exiting the stadium.
Other changes brought on by the pandemic include guests having to have a ticket for admission, seating in the bleachers being staggered and marked off according to social distancing guidelines, graduates entering the stadium from two different gates and being spread out across the entire football field so they can be 6 feet apart, the stage being closer to ground so the people who need to sit on it can spread out around it to observe social distancing and graduates actually receiving their diplomas onstage because they can't all go to one area afterwards to pick them up like usual.
"We're going to try the best we can," Tierce said. "We're going right along with it, and we'll be good, get through Friday night and take a little bit of a deep breath and a sigh of relief."
The principal said the Class of 2020 has 331 seniors graduating, but only around 300 will be walking due to some of them already reporting to the military or college, not being able to take off from their jobs or being uncomfortable in crowds due to the pandemic.
"I'm just excited to have them all back," she said. "They're excited to come back. I'm excited for them to be able to come back to what they consider their school home and be able to graduate."
The board held the first of two state-mandated public hearings on the fiscal year 2021 budget during the meeting, and after no one showed up to address board members about it, they unanimously approved a tentative consolidated budget of $58,474,663.
"This is a pretty flat budget in relationship to the one that we're operating on right now," Finance Chairman Tim Chason said. "There are a couple of points to make in this budget. First of all, there are no increases in salaries in the budget except for step increases that are awarded based on the tenure with us. There's also $730,199 of CARES Act funding that's included in this budget that was awarded to us by the federal government."
Chason also said two new personnel positions have been added.
"We're adding an assistant principal split between the primary and elementary schools and a system psychologist," he said. "Those are the only two positions that we're adding."
The committee will meet again Monday for more discussions and "hopefully have a final budget" for board members to approve by the end of the month, he said.
The tentative consolidated budget includes the $42,910,950 general fund, which covers the operating costs of the system, as well as special revenue, school nutrition and capital projects.
The second required public meeting will be Monday, July 27, at 5 p.m. in the high school auditorium, and the budget is being advertised on the school system website, https://www.cartersvilleschools.org/Page/4425.
The board also unanimously voted to:
— Award the contract to upgrade and replace portions of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning building automation systems at the primary school and the high school to low bidder Frazier Service Co. in Atlanta at a cost of $86,000. Funds will be taken from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
— Submit the required educational facility site application to the Georgia Department of Education for future construction of a new school on the Carter Grove property. The application will be valid for five years.
— Accept the donation of a 2012 Hyundai Sonata from WBHF Radio to be used by the high school's automotive department to demonstrate certain car repairs.
— Award the bid for property and casualty insurance to Brown & Brown at a total premium of $330,879, as recommended by McNeary Consulting. Board member Travis Popham abstained from voting due to a conflict of interest.