The Fulton Public School District Board of Education met virtually Wednesday evening to work through a lengthy agenda, discussing finances as well as graduation plans.
Fulton High School has been working with the city and police department to plan a senior celebration parade scheduled for 3 p.m. May 22. The parade route will follow Court Street toward Memorial Park.
"The idea is that the seniors will drive through, they will be our parade," FHS Principal Kati Boland said. "There won't be any floats or bands, so it will be a little different type of parade. They will have their cars, and they can put their senior signs on their cars or decorate them and they will be able to drive through town for everyone to cheer them on and let them know how much we care about them."
In the addition to the parade, the school will have an in-person ceremony June 19 at the football stadium. Administrators are still working out what exactly that ceremony will look like.
Boland told the board the current plan involves keeping the graduates 6 feet apart on the field. Diplomas will be placed on a table for graduates to pick up as they cross the stage.
Working with the Callaway County Health Department, the school determined each graduate will be able to invite six guests, who will sit in the stands. Signs and cones will encourage people to adhere to social distancing between family clusters.
Board member Matt Gowin asked about the possibility of allowing more people or what the plan is if social distancing recommendations from the state are lifted.
"That was something we discussed with Kent (Wood, of the health department) and he still really feels 1,100 is still a lot of people — whether the social distancing is lifted or not — coming right off the edge of a pandemic," Boland said.
Gowin expressed his support for including as many people as possible.
"We're all demoralized and depressed by what (the senior class) has gone through, and if there's any relief that this could be their one celebratory moment, my encouragement would be to go to what's allowed by the state," Gowin said.
Other board members had different points of view.
Board member Jackie Pritchett expressed her doubts about the school's ability to enforce any distancing, noting the people she's seen around town don't seem to be following guidelines in daily lives.
"How are we going to police that? How are we going to have parking?" board member Todd Gray asked. "That's my biggest concern, 1,100 people in that area."
Board member Andy Bonderer said the board has to let the school's administration do their job.
"This is the recommendation. This is where they'd like to go, and I think it's well-researched," Bonderer said. "They're ready to go, and I commend them and say we move forward."
As the plan solidifies, FHS will share more details about the ceremony with families.
Superintendent Jacque Cowherd asked for changes to the fiscal year 2021 budget.
Previously, the board had approved the funds to hire a second agriculture teacher — a move that originated with the board and not in any recommendations made by administrators. Cowherd and Assistant Superintendent Ty Crain asked the board to consider holding off on the added position for another year.
"The bottom line is we don't know what an agriculture teacher would do this year," Cowherd said. "We're requesting that be put off for a year."
Before the board voted on the issue, Gowin requested more details.
"I don't disagree. I think it's awful late in the game, but I'd like to hear a little bit about the plan," he said.
Crain explained the district needs to figure out logistics and hopes to survey students on their interests.
"It's a determination of not only when and where, but also what those courses would be that the kids are wanting to enroll in," Crain said.
Board member Leah Baker noted she remembers multiple discussions about a second agriculture teacher that never panned out and asked for reassurances that this time it will actually happen.
The board voted unanimously to allow the district to plan and gather additional information for the hiring of a teacher for the 2021-22 school year.
To address changing revenue projections, the district wants to include $350,000 in supply and service reductions in next year's budget. If revenues come in better than expected, Cowherd said it would be possible to release more funds at a later date.
"It's much easier to release money than it is to take it back once somebody has it," Cowherd said.
When it came to a vote, Baker, Bonderer, Verdis Lee, Pritchett and Emily Omohundro voted in favor of the cuts. Gowin and Gray voted against.
Auditing firms for the district and for the Fulton Public Schools foundation are currently at odds over the necessity of auditing the foundation.
"We are very reluctant to have an audit for the foundation," Foundation President Jane Bell said.
Bell said even though the board has offered to pay half the cost of an audit, it would still be a considerable expense for the foundation.
"We feel that it is a huge expense for the foundation," Bell said. "We have a budget of approximately just under $50,000 annually, and to assume the cost of an audit at $5,000, that's a huge, huge percentage of our annual budget."
The disagreement is based on whether or not the foundation is a "component unit" of the school district — if the foundation is a component unit, then an audit would be necessary. Auditors for the district have said yes, while foundation auditors have said otherwise.
"The school board does not control the foundation, and the foundation does not rely on the school for physical support or vice versa," Bell said. "Those are the reasons our auditing firm does not believe that the foundation is a component unit of the district."
The foundation had to postpone its annual fundraising event due to COVID-19 and isn't certain it won't have to cancel the event entirely if the situation doesn't improve. Also up in the air are class reunions that help financially support the foundation.
"We are not expecting to be successful with our fundraising this year — we feel it's going to be significantly diminished and that may mean that paying for an audit for the school district's clean audit is an even bigger hardship," Bell said.
Members noted their reluctance to cause any hardships for the foundation and talked of getting a second opinion on the "component unit" determination. No final decisions were made; the issue will be brought up again at a future meeting with more information.