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Anniston schools may pay teachers before holiday

School officials say line of credit not a return to overspending

Anniston’s school board voted 5-0 Thursday to take out a $750,000 line of credit in case it needs the money to pay teachers early in December.

Superintendent Ray Hill said school officials hope to be able to give teachers and other school staff a paycheck around Dec. 18 — before the holidays — instead of making them wait until the end of the month. He said it’s still not clear the school system will need to borrow money to make that happen.

“It’s just to be on the safe side,” Hill said at the board’s regular meeting at Anniston Middle School. 

It’s not the first time the school system has taken measures to pay teachers early, Hill said. School employees typically get paid monthly which can make Christmas, arriving a week before payday, a little tricky. An early payday in December, though, wouldn’t be an extra payday. 

“You need to remember that if you get paid early, you don’t see another check for six weeks,” Hill said.

Hill said chief financial officer Johanna Martin may be able to work out a way to offer that early pay without a need to borrow money.

That’s a far cry from the school system’s situation just a few years ago, when Anniston sometimes operated on a deficit and dipped into its reserves to pay the bills.

School board members believe they’re getting those problems under control under the direction of Hill and Martin, both of whom were hired within the last two years. Hill said the fact that the line of credit is a precaution, not a necessity, is a sign that things are getting better.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to say, ‘if we need to borrow,’” he said.

The school board on Thursday also heard from Susan Salter of the Alabama Association of School Boards, who presented the yearly evaluations of both Hill and Martin. Both got high ratings from fellow school administrators within the system — and more mixed, but generally positive reviews from board members.

Hill got relatively low marks from some school board members on items that related to his dealings with school system personnel — possible fallout from shake-ups in staff Hill made over the summer.

Hill and school board members on Thursday expressed worry about statewide achievement testing that may be coming up next year. The state abandoned its normal standardized testing schedule not long after coronavirus emerged in spring. Hill said it's unclear whether testing will resume in the spring semester of 2021, and it’s unclear whether schools will be graded on the state’s school report card.

Anniston’s grade on that report card was climbing before COVID-19 hit, but Hill said he’s concerned some of that progress has been lost.

“Yes, we are behind,” he said. “Yes, our students are behind.”

Hill said COVID-19 has slowed down learning in nearly every school system. He said Tropical Storm Zeta added another blow, leaving some at-home students without power for days. Calhoun County was among the last areas to see power restored, with some residents going more than a week without electricity.

At the close of the meeting, board member Mary Harrington took Hill and board president Robert Houston to task for not telling other board members about their attendance at a retreat with Anniston City Council members earlier this week.

The council met for two days at Anniston Regional Airport and spoke to leaders from various local agencies. Harrington said she wasn’t told about the summit.