EATON — Preble County Educational Service Center (ESC) board members and administrators discussed the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic during their regular monthly meeting Wednesday, May 27.
ESC Superintendent Mike Gray stressed the importance of speaking out against recent cuts to education funding in light of Covid-19. Governor Mike DeWine announced $775 million in state budget cuts May 5, including $300 million in cuts to public K-12 funding and $110 million to higher education.
The cuts have been attributed to the effects of reduced income tax and sales tax revenue for the state due to school and retail store closures. ESC Treasurer Kerry Borger said that every school district in the county will likely see at least a 10 percent cut in funding in the coming school year.
“Next year is looking pretty ugly,” Borger said.
Board member Rhonda Schaar pointed out that the mental health impact to students returning to school after Covid-19 could be severe. Assistant to the Superintendent Sean Hoff said that ESC administrators are working to address this issue.
“We’re working with Gebhart Counseling to bring in additional counseling solutions,” Hoff said. The plan is to have the extra counselors work with Medicaid-eligible students while ESC counselor Brent Krumdiack handles the rest, according to Hoff, who stressed that the additional counseling services would come at no additional cost to taxpayers in the district.
Schaar also expressed concern that some students forced to work at home during the closure had more support and encouragement from family members than others, and that this would be reflected in those students’ academic performance.
“Those who had the support at home, thrived,” Schaar said. “Those who didn’t, didn’t.”
A task force consisting of Hoff, representatives from the Preble County Department of Health and superintendents from all five county school districts began meeting May 26, according to Hoff, to discuss plans for the coming 2020-21 school year.
“We wanted to have a professional dialogue about, how did this affect us?” Hoff said. “How can we prepare for next year?”
Superintendent Gray, meanwhile, felt that resuming a normal school schedule in the fall was essential.
“If we don’t start back in August, we’re going to lose a year and a half of schooling,” Gray said. “I wish they would do what Georgia and Florida did, and they haven’t seen any problems.”
Florida began Phase I of its reopening plan on May 4 and Georgia on April 24. According to multiple news sources, confirmed Covid-19 cases in both states have remained steady, though some sources report a slight upward trend in Georgia. Schools remain closed in both states.
Gray was strong in his criticism of the decision to close Ohio’s schools.
“We shouldn’t have done what we did,” Gray said. “There have been 2,002 deaths in Ohio. Ohio has a population of 11.7 million people. That’s a .00017 percent death rate, and seven out of every 10 of those were in nursing homes. There haven’t been any kids in public schools in Ohio who have lost their lives over this.”
In fact, statistics reported by the Ohio Deptartment of Health as of May 31 show 2,155 deaths in Ohio, with approximately 53 percent being over the age of 80 and 97 percent over the age of 50. The agency has reported no known deaths of victims under the age of 19.
Neither figures from the ODH website nor Preble County Health Commissioner Eric Balster were able to confirm the proportion of those deaths which have taken place in nursing homes.
“Above the age of 65 is the window of folks who are most susceptible, however, so that’s where we’re seeing the higher number of positive cases,” Balster said.
Balster pointed out that Georgia and other Southern states “haven’t had some of the numbers [Ohio has] had” in terms of Covid-19 infections, possibly because of less international travel among residents and a smaller proportion of their population residing within cities.
“If they’re like some of the other Southern states, they would have been late to shut down and early to open up,” Balster said.
Preble County’s smaller, more spread-out population and student body may make it possible for schools to reopen in ways that might not be feasible for a larger district, according to Balster.
“Generally speaking our goal is to get kids back in school as close to normal as possible, both for safety and for a quality education,” Balster said.
“As far as whether the school closure was the right call, I think it’s still way too early to make that determination,” Balster continued. “It would be difficult to say whether it did or didn’t have an effect in slowing the spread. As it stands, we have to go through a whole other school year where Covid is going to be around and be a fact of life.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish