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Fort Frye BOE hears presentations

Fort Frye High School Principal Andy Schob describes the proposed new layout of the high school building to separate the southwestern end of the building into a separate middle school pod for grades 6-8 on Thursday during the district board of education meeting. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Two presentations Thursday extended the time the Fort Frye Local Schools Board of Education spent discussing the future of the district past usual norms.

The first asked the board to consider a shift in early-adolescent instruction.

The second explained the financial state of the district and the impacts of the present funding formulas on predicted deficit spending without both budget cuts in the coming year and the hopeful passage of Ohio House Bill 305 next month.

Grades 6-8 instruction

With a hope to both positively impact academics and the social/emotional development of students in grades 6, 7 and 8, two junior high teachers and the principal and assistant principal at Fort Frye junior/high school asked board members to walk through with them a proposal to not only shift sixth-grade students from the district’s three elementary buildings but also help to section off grades 7 and 8 into a formal middle school wing alongside sixth grade.

Assistant Principal Rachael Tullius identifies myths and research-based facts of integrating sixth grade students into middle school settings Thursday during the Fort Frye Local Schools Board of Education meeting. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Drew Arnold, one of the four presenters, explained that separating the three grades into their own routine would impact the socialization and emotional health of the sub-group of adolescents.

“Giving them a routine that’s their own, making them more comfortable,” he described.

The group emphasized the marked shift that students feel when they transition from elementary settings to a jolted expectation of lockers, schedule shifts and the pace of the high school while still learning to regulate their own schedules and organize study habits.

Principal Andy Schob explained that by creating a formal section for the middle school students and separating teachers into specific grade groups, this option could not only benefit the younger students (ages 10-14) but also allow for greater academic benefit and offerings for high school students to stay in the building longer.

One objection brought forward from Board Member Stephanie Lang rested in a concern for preserving the “innocence of youth.”

Attendance during the Fort Frye Local Schools board of education meeting Thursday remained socially distanced within the high school cafeteria. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“I was 100 percent on board until today,” she worried. “Overall the concept is great but I’m a little worried.”

She cited a university study and other statistics alleging increased exposure to negative peer pressures from older students as a cause for worry.

But her worries were met with greater detail into how students in a formal middle school, especially the youngest students in grade 6, would be kept separate from juniors and seniors through the physical split of the building by wings.

The board has time to digest the proposal, conduct further research and ask more questions before forming a final decision impacting the 2021-2022 school year.

Finances

In regular business, the board looked not only to accept the most recent donation of stimulus funding from Adams Township (following a donation last month from Waterford Township and preceding an anticipated donation from Lowell Village) but also learned of the increased costs incurred to keep the district’s schools open this year despite a global pandemic.

Superintendent Stephanie Starcher emphasized that the funds donated have federal restrictions for eligible expenses and therefore could not be used on township roads and other usual expenses.

Board Member Kevin Worthington was informed that the district’s COVID-related costs have now surpassed half a million dollars, thus the combined donations of approximately $70,000 have helped to offset those additional expenses this year.

The board also heard its semi-annual five-year forecast presentation from District Treasurer Stacy Bolden detailing how the exercise not only aids the district in checking its financial projections for planning but also aids in identifying financial threats on the horizon with time to prepare and adjust.

(See an explainer of full millage versus effective millage next week in The Marietta Times.)

Bolden informed the board that with indications are positive from the state following the warning the district received about a drop in its public utility personal property tax revenue this coming year.

The state will provide the district with a one-time payment of $826,000 in June to help offset a drop in $1.6 million in PUPP revenue (from the energy plant in Beverly utilizing its energy efficiency tax credit this cycle).

Meanwhile, cuts to the 2020-21 budget began with the reduction in five paraprofessional positions beginning in January.

More cuts are coming, Starcher explained, in advance of the next school year.

Bolden and Starcher also updated the board on the progress of the most recent state attempt to redesign the state funding formula but asked for local support with connections to state legislature.

“Keep in mind the state does not have the money to fully fund this plan,” Bolden pointed to as she described that the present simulation for House Bill 305 remains in committee at the state legislature, after having completed a seventh hearing for testimony last week.

As the bill stands at present, the district stands to gain an additional $378,000 in funding if the bill is adopted.

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