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Anniston High to get new roof as school board passes budget

Anniston High School teaser

Anniston High School (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/file)

Anniston High School will get a new roof at a cost of about $1.3 million, as part of a Fiscal Year 2021 budget passed by the Anniston Board of Education on Monday.

School board members voted 4-0 in favor of a $23.3 million spending plan for the coming year after a public hearing on the budget at Anniston Middle School.

The new budget, which covers the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1,  includes about a dozen fewer teachers and staffers than the school system employed in the current budget year, according to budget officials. That's a reflection of declining enrollment.

“Our goal is of course to right-size the district so that we meet the needs of our students but that we don’t overspend in teachers,” said Johanna Martin, the school system’s chief financial officer.

The budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year was $23 million. At a budget hearing earlier this month, Martin offered the school board numbers that suggested the system would cut spending in 2021 by more than $200,000. The budget approved Monday actually increases spending by about $300,000. Martin said the final budget includes local revenue, from sources such as athletic events, that hadn’t been totaled before the first budget hearing.

The board also gave their nod to another change in the budget, agreeing to spend $1.3 million in the future to replace the high school’s roof, to be paid for with money from a state bond issue. Martin said the timing of that project would depend on when the state funding is approved.

Declining enrollment — and the subsequent decline in state and federal money —  has been a challenge for Anniston administrators for years. The school system had 1,786 students at the beginning of the 2019 school year, and that enrollment number is used to calculate state aid in the upcoming year’s budget. In 2012, the system had nearly 2,400 students.

The budget documents show one school, Tenth Street Elementary, hit particularly hard last year. The school had 350 students in 2018 and lost 62 of them by the coming year.

Board president Robert Houston said the board doesn’t know why Tenth Street lost so many students, and he said it’s difficult to tell if the numbers have come back up, due to the new approach to school demanded by COVID-19. Some of the system’s students are attending class in person, others online.

“I don’t think we know what’s going on yet, because we’ve got students still floating,” Houston said.

The board voted Monday to approve a student code of conduct for the new school year, one that reflects the new reality of largely online learning. Board member Trudy Munford asked how teachers can monitor students’ behavior in the online environment — particularly if they’re using school-issued computers to visit sites they aren’t supposed to.

Staff members said software on the devices alerts the staff when students try to log on to banned sites. Three tries, and the student is suspended from using their online account.

“Parents call and say, ‘My student can’t get into it,’” said board member Mary Harrington. “And that’s when they find out why.”

Board members on the whole aren’t optimistic about the long-term effects of six months of coronavirus-induced change, with more months to come.

“I believe, not just in Anniston but across the country, we’re looking at losing a year or more of learning,” Houston said. He said he is concerned about coming months, when COVID-19 is expected to surge again, alongside a new flu season. 

There are things to dread in the budget, too. Martin said she still isn’t sure what penalty the school system will pay to the Social Security Administration for payroll numbers that weren’t properly reported in 2018.

Martin has been the school system’s financial officer for less than a year; an audit released in May found unspent federal funds and misreported payroll figures in the 2018 numbers. School officials have been waiting to hear how much the system owes Social Security as a result of the errors.

“We have corrected that item,” Martin said Monday. “However, we have not heard back on what the penalty will be.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.