FCHS seniors to walk June 6

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County’s Class of 2020 will have a traditional graduation ceremony, albeit with several modifications.

Like most schools nationwide, the Fairfield County School District has been wrestling with whether or not to conduct a live graduation ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That question received an answer during the May 12 school board meeting.

Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green announced that graduation would move forward Saturday, June 6 at 8:30 a.m. at E.K. McLendon Stadium.

If there’s inclement weather, the ceremony time will move to 7:30 p.m., according to the district’s website.

Green said the district will implement several social distancing measures and other measures to prevent the risk of spreading coronavirus infection.

Guests will be asked to wear masks or face coverings. Masks will be provided for those who don’t have them, though wearing a mask won’t be compulsory.

“We don’t plan to dismiss anyone as a function of not wearing them,” Green said.

Several sanitation stations will be placed within the stadiums.

As for social distancing, the district will strictly prohibit large groups from congregating within the stadium. Also, guests must sit six feet apart.

Green later clarified that the six-foot distancing rule won’t apply to every single person.

For example, two guests who are related may sit side by side, but there must be a six-foot buffer between them and other guests. Graduates will be permitted two guests, according to the district website.

During the ceremony, graduates will still receive diplomas by hand, but district staff is forgoing handshakes. The ceremony will be streamed live as well.

In other business, the board voted 6-1 on a continuing budget resolution that will allow the district to continue day-to-day operations, but under 2019-2020 funding levels. Board trustee Paula Hartman opposed.

School districts elsewhere in the state have passed similar measures since the state legislature hasn’t been able to pass its budget due to the novel coronavirus. It remains unclear exactly when the General Assembly will adopt a state budget.

Board chairman William Frick thought the tentative target date for the state to adopt a budget could come in September.

“I hope that is correct. That is the goal. You’ve got to have something to start FY2020-2021,” Frick said.

The Fairfield continuing resolution means that bonuses the board budgeted last year will carry over into the 2020-2021 cycle.

In January 2019, the board appropriated $2.8 million for the then one-time bonuses. Each teacher was supposed to receive $5,000, while district staff received $3,000 each.

Hartman opposed continuing the bonuses because the district is also facing a $2.7 million shortfall.

“We don’t know what the result of this on businesses is and how it will affect taxes,” she said.

Green thought the district could withstand the combined effect of bonuses and lost tax revenue, saying the district has a “substantial fund balance.” Kevin Robinson, the district’s chief financial officer, estimated the fund balance at more than $14 million.

“We know we’ll have the money to fund the bonuses because we have a substantial fund balance,” Green said. “Even if we have to pull from the fund balance, we’ll have enough to pull from the fund balance.”

Hartman wasn’t convinced.

“If we keep using the fund balance, eventually it won’t be there. We shouldn’t be bringing that money from the fund balance,” she said.

Green, however, pushed back.

“We’ve not [withdrawn from the fund balance] in the eight years I’ve been here. We’ve never done it,” Green said. “This is exactly why you have a substantial fund balance, so you can address these times when you have these funding shortfalls.”