Tallapoosa County Schools are scheduled to start Aug. 26, but the COVID-19 pandemic could change that.

Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Joe Windle told the Tallapoosa County Board of Education at its Monday meeting the system will make preparations to open in late August. He said the system has received guidance from the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and everyone should prepare for ever-changing plans.

“The guidance from the state department is a guidance document,” Windle said. “It is not mandatory.”

Windle said ALSDE issued several strategies to go by but decisions are ultimately up to local school boards.

“(ALSDE) recommended we consult with the Alabama Department of Public Health, local health agencies and local health officials,” Windle said. “We have 120 to 130 school systems in the state and we could have 120 to 130 plans for reopening.”

Windle said some of the recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are unobtainable such as social distancing on buses with only one student per seat and skipping rows and only 10-15 students per classroom.

“We don’t have the luxury of providing $10 million in local funds for teachers,” Windle said.

Windle said the central office leadership team will spend this week coming up with a plan before speaking with school leadership.

“Our plans will likely be different for each school,” Windle said. “We might be able to have an isolation room at this school but not at another.”

What is decided by county school leaders in the next two weeks could be a different plan than what is used to open schools in two months as the virus changes recommendations.

“It is ever changing,” Windle said. “It changes daily. What we come up with tomorrow or next week may be different in August.”

Windle said Tallapoosa County Schools will be prepared for whatever happens between now and the start of school.

“We know we will have a good plan,” Windle said. “We know there will be adjustments. There are more questions than answers. If anyone tells you they know exactly how (a school) will open up, they are lying.”

To help prepare for the opening of schools during a pandemic, the Tallapoosa County school board approved several moves, most of which are thanks to funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress. Windle said the system will receive more than $800,000 from ALSDE and the system is applying for grants for more CARES Act funding through the legislature. The extra funds are providing for additional staff, such as a school nurse.

“It gives us a nurse at each school and allows the system nurse to travel to each school,” Windle said.

Windle said the new position will allow the system nurse to ensure proper use of screening equipment across the system such as digital thermometers, isolation rooms and other pandemic related procedures.

The board approved adding two more janitors. Windle said existing staff will be shifted around to make more sanitation of buildings possible. The CARES Act funding is also making possible the purchase of cleaning and disinfection equipment for buildings and buses.

The board approved the 2019 fiscal year audit performed by the Alabama Department of Public Accounts. The audit found the board did not have adequate internal controls when the school system paid a payroll clerk $1,660 never presented or approved by the board. The monies were given to the system as an administrative fee for delivering the refunds to the 332 employees from overpayment of health insurance.

The audit noted, “no documentation was provided the payroll clerk worked any additional time on the project outside of normal working hours. The superintendent approved the payroll clerk to receive the supplement but there was no documentation to demonstrate board approval of the extra payment.”

Tallapoosa County Schools chief school financial officer Tommy Theweatt said he failed to present the supplement to the board.

The board’s approved corrective action was the chief school officer will ensure all supplements will be approved by the board in the future.

The only other finding listed the board “failed to accurately record debt transactions of $624,806.52 at the end of the fiscal year. Transfers were not made from the capital projects fund to the debt service fund...this caused cash balances to be materially misstated.”

The corrective action was an adjustment between the debt service and capital projects funds.

The bid from Whatley Construction for constructing an auditorium at Horseshoe Bend School was approved by the board. The $2,883,000 project includes the construction of the building, the sound system, a canopy and a road. It does not include the seating.

“We will buy that off the state list,” Windle said. “We can do that cheaper that way than anybody else.”

Windle said it is the third project to come in under estimate because contractors are seeking work.

“Right now is a good time for bidding jobs,” Windle said. “Contractors are having to make decisions about future work when things are unsure.”

Board president Carla Talton questioned Windle about rebidding a gym project at Dadeville while things were good.

Windle said he was unsure because the HBS auditorium now makes a project at each of the main campuses in the system, a requirement from the Tallapoosa County Commission for the 1-cent sales tax. He said the system can now start to look at other projects because it knows the cost of projects.

“I don’t know (when the Dadeville gym project will be rebid),” Windle said. “Now we can begin to focus on the next level (of projects) and we will.”

Board member Martin Johnson was absent from the meeting.

In other action the Tallapoosa County Board of Education also:

• Approved the annual report to ALSDE for restraining students

• Approved the purchase of 28 air conditioned buses through the fleet renewal program

• Approved employment contracts for three principals

• Approved changing the name of the gymnasium at Dadeville High School to Weldon Caldwell Gym

• Approved a budget amendment Windle said is needed each fiscal year

The next meeting of the Tallapoosa County Board of Education is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, July 13.

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.