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Flu causing absences throughout district

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By Becky Barnes

Harrison County students have already missed 12 days this school year and there may be more.

At a special school board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Andy Dotson expressed concern over absences created by the flu.

“We’re definitely watching it,” Dotson told board members.

On Tuesday, 289 students were absent from the six public schools.

“We’ve been hit hard at the high school and middle school,” he said.

Assistant superintendent DeeGee Fischer added that staff absences are also a concern because substitutes are limited.

On Wednesday, absences had dropped to 258.

In another matter, the board also discussed SEEK calculations for Harrison County and the funds it can expect for the 2009-2010 school year.

That money is down, but not as much as previously anticipated, said Julie Asher, district finance officer.

Net general fund SEEK monies are forecast to come in at $12,881,265, down about $100,000 from this year.

Asher said that administrators had to cut about $300,000 out of their current year budgets which helped with the numbers for the coming year.

Dotson added that school districts have not been told of how the federal economic stimulus money will affect budgets at the local level.

He said another plus for this year’s budget was the drop in fuel prices from the anticipated costs. However, he said that could all change for next year.

Asher said that along with the budget forecast, consideration for staffing allocations are due by May 1, which is an extension from the usual March 1 deadline. However, she said there was no point in waiting.

She said allocations for staffing were based on enrollment and that there would be no request for additional staffing at this time.

“At this point we can’t do it until we know more,” Asher said.

Dotson said staffing discussions have been held with each of the school principals.

Student-to-teacher ratios were also announced.

Dotson said at the elementary level, the K-3 program will have a 24 to 1 ratio with fourth and fifth grade being 28-1. Middle School will be 27-1 and high school 28-1.

Dotson credited principals with being really creative as far as staffing needs.

Asher added that each school gets an allocation of instructional supplies.

“It’s up to them how they spend that money,” she said, adding that some principals will use activity funds to make classroom needs purchases, freeing up the instruction supply funds for additional staffing.

Along those lines, Dotson said that because of the tough economic projections, the school system will be supply each of the elementary classrooms with start-up supplies.

In the past, parents have been given lists of supplies from each teacher and they must make those purchases. Next year, those supplies will already be in the classroom.

“It’s tough economic times, by time, if you’ve got four or five kids, and needs for four or five different classes for those children, it tough,” Dotson said, adding that there will be no elementary fees either.

However, how much assistance will be available at the high school level is yet to be decided.

Two years ago, the board agreed to $30,000 supplement to help reduce high school fees. This year that amount was $20,000.

“We will know more once we look closer at our budget,” Dotson said.