Students in kindergarten through grade 5 will begin attending school on a 5-day a week schedule beginning January 5 if the Moore County Board of Education follows their plan discussed at a special meeting Monday.
According to Chief Officer for Academics and Student Support Services Dr. Tim Locklair, class sizes will return to normal, attempts will be made to keep social distancing to a minimum and outside visitors will continue to be limited. Requirements for wearing face masks and daily health screening will be kept.
Middle schools and high schools may follow a similar in-person schedule soon after, but only if North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper lifts the state-wide requirements limiting the number of students in schools to maintain social distancing requirements.
Since the opening of schools in August, all Moore County schools have operated on a hybrid schedule. To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, the school district adopted a plan to limit the time students were in the classroom by alternating attendance days with at home, virtual instruction days. Another option, that will continue to at least the end of the year, is attending all virtual classes.
The plan was well-received by board members, some of them newly sworn in after winning their races in the November election for 4-year terms. Only Stacy Caldwell was re-elected to another term.
New Board Members
New members, David Hensley, Philip Holmes and Robert Levy surprised many with their victories over well-known, established incumbents. The new board members’ positions on critical topics have been at odds with the previous board and school administration.
Some of the new board members have previously been on record against the recent redistricting plan, intending on holding Superintendent Dr. Robert Grimesey more accountable and in favor of a return to full-time classroom instruction sooner.
Surplus Schools and Land
In a marked departure from previous boards, the new members voiced opposition to an already approved policy to sell schools that the district no longer uses. Hensley, Holmes and Levy all seemed to be in favor of either leasing them or holding the properties for future school sites that will be needed as the population of Moore County continues to increase.
In discussions, Hensley proposed that old Southern Pines Elementary School be leased to Moore Montessori Community School rather than an outright sale to the highest bidder that may turn the 14-acre site into residential use. The Moore Montessori Community School is a free public charter school that serves Moore County residents.
Hensley reasoned that the public charter school could provide capacity for as many as 700 students and thus alleviate overcrowding in other Moore County’s public schools. A long-term lease to the Montessori School could even save the district from building a future school, Hensley suggested.
When considering what to do with the old Southern Pines Primary and the two vacated schools in Aberdeen, the board also seems to be split. Some are intent on selling off the properties, even at less than fair market value, citing the need to use the money gained to improve and repair existing schools. While the new board members preferred that the buildings and the valuable land remain district property to be used for future needs.
What to do about the surplus property will again be under discussion at the next meeting on January 4.
New Activity Bus
In another example of how the new members of the board view their oversight role, the purchase of a new white activity bus was questioned. Dr. Seth Powers, director for student support services, made a recommendation to spend $95,156 from Military Impact funds on a new bus to supplement the fleet of buses now being used to transport students and staff to and from activities.
Board members questioned the common notion that yellow school buses could not be used for after-school activities. While yellow, academic school buses are provided by the state, the white activity buses must be purchased with district money.
Each year, the Department of Defense provides money to military-connected school districts. Levy questioned if a new activity bus should be the highest priority for those funds.
The matter was referred to the district’s attorney for clarification.
$200 Classified Staff Bonus
In other business, the board reached unanimous consensus on giving all 550 classified staff a one-time $200 bonus. Classified staff are those employees that are not teachers and administrators. They are custodians, bus drivers, data managers, bookkeepers and maintenance workers. The total amount of the bonus is not to exceed $150,000 and will be paid for from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.