Amy Murphy, guest columnist.
Editor’s note: Amy Murphy is chairwoman of the Bryan County Board of Education. She submitted this on behalf of the entire board.
As the Bryan County Board of Education continues to govern in our ever-changing world, it felt important to us to share with the community some up to date information on our school system. First, in August, the Board of Education passed our final 2020-2021 school budget. Like most school systems’ budgets, ours is about 85-90% personnel costs. This fiscal year was highly unusual, and unfortunately, Bryan County Schools faced a $6 million deficit due to cuts in state revenues.
Despite this challenge, Bryan County Schools was able to navigate this year’s budget without increasing the millage rate. Not only did the millage rate stay the same, no employee lost a job or had a cut in pay and there were no furlough days. This was accomplished primarily through attrition and delaying non-essential purchases.
In addition, after many, many, many hours spent preparing for the most challenging school opening on record, Bryan County Schools got off to a phenomenal start. We understood that everyone’s medical and family situation was unique, and our school system was glad to offer families an eLearning option this year. At this time, about 25% of our students are enrolled in our virtual “eLearning” program.
The other 75% of our students are attending school face to face. Our COVID-19 data is updated weekly on our school website because we believe transparency is important. Currently there has been no known in-school spread. All of our known COVID-19 cases appear to be from home or outside-of-school exposure.
Our Superintendent will be sending out information to our families in a few weeks about next semester. Students will again be allowed to choose eLearning or in person instruction. As our protocols and practices appear to be working, we do not anticipate any changes in them for the spring semester.
Furthermore, our new school, Frances Meeks Elementary, opened this school year. Growth and overcrowding prompted the need for an additional South Bryan Elementary School. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the community was unable to tour this beautiful new school, named in honor of one of Bryan County’s finest, Mrs. Meeks. We hope that in the future we will be able to welcome the community to visit this school and honor Mrs. Meeks in the manner she deserves!
In addition, Frances Meeks Elementary School is home to Bryan County Schools’ first employer- sponsored daycare site. As the need to attract and retain the brightest and best teachers continues, Bryan County Schools was proud to begin offering this employee benefit. Richmond Hill High School students taking advanced Early Childcare Education classes have an opportunity to enhance their classroom knowledge by assisting in this real-world setting. The additional wing currently being built at Bryan County Elementary School will include space to expand our employer-sponsored daycare to our employees in North Bryan County Schools.
Finally, we’d appreciate an opportunity to publicly thank Bryan County Schools’ employees, particularly at this challenging time. If a worldwide health crisis has taught us anything, it is that public education is critical. Please join us in taking the time to thank our teachers, administrators, and all school employees. Thank them intentionally and thank them often. There’s no question that life is hard for all of us right now. Yet every employee in every aspect of school life has taken on additional duties to support our students during COVID-19.
For instance, our food nutrition employees and bus drivers have taken on the additional work of implementing the expanded federal Child Nutrition Program. This includes preparing and delivering a weeks’ worth of meals for pickup. We are grateful for their part in making sure no Bryan County child goes hungry during the difficult times that many families are facing.
We always cherish an opportunity to thank our top-notch educators. Bryan County Schools’ teachers continue to pivot and shift and adapt to educate our students. We understand and appreciate how critical they are in the lives and development of our children.
In closing, we would like to thank every employee who strives to make Bryan County Schools the very best every day. A special thank you to you, our Bryan County community, for your continued support of the great work going on in our school system.