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Superintendent hopes to finish Newton schools "restart" plan this week
Could include timetable for return to in-person instruction

COVINGTON, Ga. — The county schools superintendent says she hoped a “restart plan” would be completed this week that includes a timetable for students returning to school buildings during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said Tuesday, Aug. 18, she was to meet with principals this week about the plan that could include dates of a “gradual return” to in-person learning for the system’s 20,000 students.

“It’s in the works and everybody is working hard to try to get the information together and get it out there,” Fuhrey told Newton County School Board members.

Fuhrey announced earlier this month students would begin the school year Sept. 8 totally online because of safety fears about the rapid spread of the disease in Newton County.

System officials also announced Aug. 14 they were suspending all athletics and extracurricular activities until infection rates and other indicators related to the disease show improvement in Newton County.

Meanwhile, Dr. Audrey Arona, director of the Gwinnett Rockdale Newton Health Departments, said on Tuesday the county’s confirmed COVID-19 cases and emergency room visits had increased in the past two weeks despite the same indicators slightly decreasing overall statewide.

Fuhrey told board members Tuesday she is actively monitoring daily and weekly changes in Newton County COVID-19 infection rates that were factoring into what she will announce.

She said system administrators were working to allow athletics and extracurriculars to resume but to “do it safely and protect all of our children and all of our staff members.”

Board member Trey Bailey said he was hoping parents would show some “grace” toward administrators as they work toward allowing in-person teaching and after-school activities to resume safely.

In other action, the board on Tuesday approved the school system’s 2021 budget that was about 2.5% larger than the 2020 budget.

The $294.4 million budget represented about a $7 million increase from 2020’s $287.4 million budget and is the total of all funds — including the General Fund which is the largest part and is used to track spending on the regular maintenance and operations of the school system. 

Total revenues are projected to be $177.4 million that is a decrease of 4.73% from the 2020 budget due to a reduction in state funding, officials said.  

Total expenditures are expected to be $191.2 million that is a decrease of 2.77% from the 2020 budget due to a reduction in the employer contribution to the teacher retirement system rate and expenditures which will be covered by federal funding related to costs incurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic, county officials said.  

But the school system is adding a school safety coordinator position in the 2021 budget, officials said.

The budget will leave ending fund balance of $27.9 million in 2021.

State funding and local property taxes are major funding sources for the budget. The board on July 21 approved a property tax rate of 19.788 mills, which was unchanged from last year.

However, the property tax rate — also called the millage rate — will generate more revenue for the 2021 budget than the 2020 budget because property assessments increased by about 7% during the past year in Newton County.   

But because county property assessments increased since last year, keeping the same property tax rate means the average homeowner will see an increase in the part of the property tax bill to fund county schools, the board said in a news release. 

Its last change in its property tax rate came last year for the 2020 budget when it dropped it from 20.0 mills to 19.788. 

Also Tuesday, the board voted to accept $1.4 million in federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program grant funds.

The program is designed to pay for after-school academic assistance for economically disadvantaged students, as well as other enrichment programs, according to information from the school board.

The school system will fund after-school programs for 600 students at Washington Street Community Center and 11 schools, including Alcovy and Eastside high schools; Clements, Cousins, Indian Creek, Liberty and Veterans Memorial middle schools; and Fairview, Flint Hill, Heard-Mixon and West Newton elementary schools.