SCOTTVILLE — The Class of 2020 at Mason County Central will be honored during an outdoor “drive-in” graduation ceremony on June 5, and plans for the event were discussed Monday by the Mason County Central school board.
The plans have been in development since the COVID-19 pandemic began. MCC Superintendent Mount and High School Principal Jeff Tuka emphasized during Monday’s meeting hosted via Google video-conferencing that an outdoor ceremony is the best and safest option for making sure seniors are properly honored during the end of a difficult year.
Tuka outlined the plans for the ceremony in greater detail for the board.
“It’s going to be June 5 at 7 p.m. in the high school parking lot,” Tuka said. “We’re going to have what’s called a drive-in graduation.”
The ceremony will require seniors and their families to park facing the high school building — in the opposite direction of the parking spaces — and Tuka said he would work to arrange having safety personnel on hand to make sure people know where to park.
A stage will be set up so seniors can see where Tuka, Mount and guidance counselor Joan Vidak will be seated to give their respective addresses to the students.
The ceremony will be broadcast live via 94.9 WKZC and Synergy Media, so the students will be able to hear the addresses while in their vehicles.
Diplomas will be placed on a table ahead of time, and students will be able to leave their cars to receive them. Seniors will be asked to remain in their cars until they’re called by name to receive their diplomas, and Tuka said he expects vehicles will be decorated beforehand, lending to a parade-style procession on graduation night.
Attendance will be limited for safety reasons and due to the limited capacity of the parking lot.
“We’re going to ask … that it stays to immediate family,” he said. “We have 76 seniors… and it’s going to fill up fast.”
Tuka said class officers will still give addresses, and there will still be a moving of the tassels in some format. Vidak will announce the recipients of scholarships, and board members will also be in attendance.
Tuka said he’s discussing options for music with MCC Band Director Tom Thomas.
“We’d love to have the band there, but it’s not really possible. So, Mr. Thomas has talked about (the possibility) of students having their pieces recorded (for the ceremony),” Tuka said.
Plans are being in development to have a video of the ceremony filmed and uploaded to the MCC’s mobile app, YouTube, and the school district’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
“It is not perfect, and it’s not ideal, and we know that, but it’s the best option to give the seniors something special and something meaningful,” Tuka said. “The students will feel like they’re celebrated in their last day as high-school students before they move on to being alumni.”
IMPACT ON SCHOOL AID
During an informational report, Mount discussed the impact of the pandemic on school funding, which came to light during the May Revenue Estimating Conference on Friday.
“The numbers are pretty bleak,” Mount said, noting that the School Aid Fund is down 6.5 percent for the current school year.
“Just to put that in perspective, back in 2009 with the great recession, it was 5.1 percent down, so it’s worse today than it was then,” Mount said, adding that current numbers show shortages of more than $1 billion for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years are down more than $1 billion each.
Mount said Friday’s revenue conference began a process of budget-balancing for the state to avoid a deficit.
“If all things were equal, we’d be looking at between a $600 and $800 per-student proration for this year we’re in right now. $650 seemed to be the number that was used consistently,” Mount said. “If the state were to prorate us, we’d be looking at (around) $650 per-pupil. It would be harsh to give a proration and say it’s on the locals to figure that out.”
Mount said the school district has worked its way back to a healthy fund balance in recent years, but such a financial hit would undo much of that progress.
Mount said some federal aid possibilities that could offset some of the shortage.
“You’re going to hear about federal dollars and the HEROES Act. That passed in the House, but seems like it’s dead on arrival in the Senate, so they need to banter back and forth about what that means.
“The current HEROES Act would inject $58 billion into public schools across the country, which might help us,” Mount said.
At the state level, there’s also a $1.2 billion budget stabilization fund, but only 25 percent of it can be used in a given year.
He also discussed the CARES Act funds that could be used to indirectly combat some of the financial strain. Mount said those funds, though, came with stipulations to used for COVID-related responses including transporting food and internet connectivity. The district received $239,000 in funds from the act.
“Needless to say, we’ll do some of that, but it’s probably more geared toward the future than the present right now,” he said.
The school district may consider extending its current debt over a longer period of time in order to help alleviate some of the financial strain, Mount said.
Mount also stated that Gov. Whitmer is forming a task force to plan for a safe return to schools for the fall. The school year may begin without face-to-face instruction, and instead, remote learning may be how the academic year begins.
And it’ll be done in a different way than the current remote-learning experience.
“It’ll be that on steroids,” Mount said. “It will mean making sure kids continue to advance, and it will require constant feedback from teachers and students. There’s got to be learning and progressing, and that’s the only way it will really happen.”
ALSO ON MONDAY
The school board also unanimously approved tenure for sixth-grade teacher Chandra Tacktor, first-grade teacher Sara Morrow, and high-school teachers Becky Gerhart and John Russell.
Tenure was approved based on performance reviews, recommendations from principals and successful completion of probationary teaching.
Several other teachers’ contracts were also approved for an additional year of probationary teaching.
Scott Andersen, Kasey Briske, Elise Chalko, Patrick Nelson, Brianna Wise and Cassidy Kessel were approved for a fourth year; Laura Gauthier, Jon Hackey and Janelle Kelley were approved for a third year; and Amy Cronk, April Keith, Julie Knudsen, Collene McCormick and Matt Millspaugh were approved for a second year of probationary teaching.