Dale County Schools pass $40 million budget

Dale County Schools Superintendent Ben Baker and Newton School third grade student Mikeal Johnson share a moment on the first day of school.

The largest budget in the history of the Dale County Schools was passed at the Board of Education meeting Sept. 8. The $40 million budget passed at the recommendation of Dale County Schools Superintendent Ben Baker.

It is the fifth consecutive balanced budget, Baker said. “A balanced budget is a priority, even in a pandemic, and I’m proud to say the system has had a balanced budget each year of my administration.”

Included in this year’s budget are five new school buses, one of which is a special needs bus. All five buses will have air conditioning, a first for the school system.

In the budget is $115,000 for school resource officers. Other items funded are a Pre-K program for each elementary school, a nurse and nurse’s aide for each school and funding of a Health Science, Career Tech and “Project Lead the Way” STEM program.

Baker says the system plans to invest over $5 million in school construction projects. In the last four years projects completed include new gymnasiums at Midland City Elementary, Ariton School and G.W. Long Elementary School; a complete renovation of South Dale Middle School; a new parking lot at Dale County High School; and a new weight room with locker rooms at G.W. Long High School.

Planned projects identified by the Capital Improvement Committee include additions to the gymnasium at South Dale Middle School, a new agri-science building at G.W. Long High School, lunchroom expansion at Ariton School and the development of a Career Tech Center on the old National Guard Armory property in Ozark.

The Ozark armory building is scheduled to be demolished by the first of the year for the development of a state-of-the-art Career Tech campus, Baker said. Smaller projects recently completed include the construction of a Health Science classroom at G.W. Long High School, renovation to Warrior Stadium at Dale County High School and resurfacing multiple school parking lots. Ground was recently broken for new classrooms at Newton School.

“Many challenges have been created this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baker said. “All the Dale County School employees have pulled together to provide a safe, healthy and well-planned learning environment for students to be successful. Stakeholders created a solid plan for the school year and the system has stayed the course to make it work.”

Baker expressed appreciation to the board of education members for their support in the plan to reopen schools. The seven schools in the Dale County School system began traditional learning in early August, one of the few school systems in the state that began face-to-face learning this school year.

Baker said that parents were surveyed to determine whether they preferred remote or traditional learning for their children. “Nearly 85 percent decided on traditional learning and sent their students to school,” he said.

“Since early August the school system has had regular class schedules, athletic events and other extracurricular activities,” Baker explained. “The major changes in the school day include students eating breakfasts and lunches in the classroom or outside, no field trips and intense cleaning and disinfecting of buildings and buses. Students are required to wash and sanitize hands often and stay in static groups.”

Baker said that some 15 percent of the students opted for remote learning. “These students have the support of teachers, facilitators and a remote learner director,” he said. “Students that identified as having a hardship were provided internet and computer support.”

Remote learner students can transition to traditional face-to-face learning Oct. 13 but those who remain remote learners will continue to receive the support of staff throughout the school year, Baker stressed.

“Dale County Schools are experiencing a sense of normalcy due to the outstanding work of the dedicated employees at the local school level,” he added. “The Dale County School system is meeting the challenges of teaching and learning during a worldwide pandemic.”

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