By Guy Busby
LOXLEY – The new school year should see classes and athletic events resume at pre-COVID levels and continued construction funded by increasing sales tax revenues, education officials said Tuesday, April 20.
Speaking at a work session in the Loxley Resource Center, Superintendent of Education Eddie Tyler told members of the Baldwin County Board of Education that unless COVID-19 cases increase, the school system is ready to resume operations as usual when the new academic year begins.
Tyler said that if COVID-19 cases increase or state health officials order new precautions, the Baldwin County school system could still return to pandemic restrictions.
“Right now, I want to say it’s opened back up in August unless something stops us,” Tyler said. “As of now, this building’s going to be full all summer long with professional development.”
He said 2021 high school graduations, including the first graduation at the new Elberta High School, will not have the social distancing restrictions put in place for 2020 ceremonies.
“We’re already talking about who’s going to graduation. I know Elberta will have their first. I will be there for their first class walk,” Tyler said. “There are a lot of good things going on. We told our principals open it up for graduation. We’ll have a live stream for those who don’t feel comfortable coming.”
Tyler said school officials also plan to resume all athletic activities if the board and state approve.
“If it was my decision alone and there is no spike, I’d say that when we start school in August, I want to see our gyms full for volleyball, our stadiums full for athletics, things of that nature, cross country, but naturally, I would get with you more to say that would be my desire,” Tyler told board members.
The Virtual School program will continue to take applications for students who do not want to take classes in school buildings. Applications are being taken through April 30, Tyler said.
John Wilson, system finance director, said sales tax revenue has already passed pre-COVID levels.
In the first half of the 2020-21 fiscal year, between October 2020 and March 2021, sales tax revenue was $22.66 million. In the same period for the year before, that total was $20.16 million. Revenue for the first half of the 2019-20 fiscal year was $19.38 million.
“We’re about $2.5 million above where we were the previous year in sales tax. That’s about a 13-percent increase year to year, so that is substantial. Also, when you’re looking at FY 20, that was before the COVID impact. The March revenue is from revenue collected in February.”
He said sales tax collections reflect strong economic growth.
“It continues to be extremely, extremely strong,” Wilson said. “The economy is roaring.”
That growth will help pay for the construction needed to keep up with increasing enrollment.
Wilson said the system’s “Pay as You Go,” program has about $62.55 million in planned projects, including the new Stonebridge Elementary School in Loxley at $23.3 million and as new Silverhill Elementary School at an estimated $18 million.
He said the school system has spent or has planned construction worth about $300 million.
“Between 2015 and 2024 plans will be close to finishing right under $300 million,” Wilson said. “That’s moving the needle. That’s getting things done. That’s addressing growth and a lot of our countywide needs, all without any new taxes. That’s quite an accomplishment and quite something to be proud of.”