SNEEDVILLE — In his final meeting as Director of Schools for the Hancock Co. School System, Tony Seal told the Board of Education at its June 25, 2020 meeting, that he “feels good” about his retirement, but will certainly miss the people he has worked with in the system for the past 33 years, the past five and one-half years of which, as Director.
Seal’s last day as director was June 30. His successor, Dr. Michael “Mike” Belcher, assumed that post on July 1.
“I would personally like to thank Mr. Seal for everything he has done for our school system,” Board Chairman Jack Mullins said, in presenting Seal with a going-away plaque of appreciation.
“Mr. Seal, I just want to thank you for your service, too, not just for our school system, but on 38 years of overall service to our county as a teacher, basketball coach, administrator, and to congratulate you on your retirement,” BOE member Freddie Mullins said.
Seal is also a former Sheriff of Hancock County.
He became DOS on Jan. 1, 2015, after spending much of three decades in public education, as a CTE classroom/shop teacher, School-to-Work coordinator, coach, bus driver, Supervisor of Transportation, Supervisor of Attendance, and Supervisor of the GED program.
He began his educational career as a vocational teacher in December of 1981. His love of sports led him to become the head coach of the Hancock Co. High School boys’ basketball team, a position he held for 17 years.
A graduate of Hancock Co. High School, Seal earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Tusculum College, a Master of Education at East Tennessee State University, and an Administrative Endorsement at Lincoln Memorial University.
“I’ll tell you all, during this COVID pandemic, our staff has been great to come in and work, delivering food, whatever was needed,” he said. “I appreciate those who cared enough to come in, even though they could have stayed home and got the same money. That tells me we have people who care and that’s huge. It just shows what kind of people we have here.”
In leaving, Seal said he also wanted to thank Finance Director Brenda Dalton for her “tireless work on the budgets”.
“I think people don’t realize how demanding and how much of a responsibility managing those budgets really is,” he said.
In other business at the June 25 meeting, the Board:
• Approved several routine end-of-year budget amendments as presented.
• Agreed that the cost of a new, electronic sign for the front of the High School/Middle School will be shared by an anonymous benefactor, with the rest to be paid from funds left over from a community grant, and from private donations previously collected.
Director Seal said that Principal Mitch Cantwell has been working on the process of getting the new, programmable sign for more than a year.
A bid of $24,100 was accepted. Of that amount, about $15,000 will be paid through funds leftover in a community grant.
Seal said that a supporter of the school last week, “walked in and said he would write a check for $10,000 to cover the rest of the cost”.
• Was told that Johnson Controls, the company handling a major renovation that includes the replacement of old, worn out heating/air conditioning units, light fixtures, water control valves and plumbing fixtures, and refrigerators/freezers with modern new energy-efficient units for all schools in Hancock County, is closing in on completing the “lighting” portion of the $2.7 million project, Seal said, in which all of the lighting in every school will be replaced with remote-controllable, programmable, LED fixtures.
The new HVAC units are to be delivered on or about July 3, he said, with a helicopter scheduled to fly in sometime in the next couple of weeks afterward to lift the units onto the roofs of school buildings.
“All of the water fixture renovations are done,” Seal added. “They still have to work on the freezers.”
The project got underway in April of this year and will be paid for over a 16-year period — at no cost to the taxpayers of the county — from savings realized by replacing old, deteriorating, electrical and water devices that are “energy hogs”.
According to estimates, the savings on the school system’s annual energy bills, which currently run around $338,000, could amount to $130,000 a year.
Johnson Controls has guaranteed that, should the savings not be sufficient to pay the cost of the loan, the company will assume the additional amount, again, resulting in no cost to the taxpayers.
Money for the 1.5% interest rate loan will come from state funds through the revolving Energy Efficient Schools program.
• The delivery of the last two new propane-fueled buses is expected any day now, Seal said.
“The other new buses have been inspected and are ready to go, so we will start the new year with 11 buses that are 2016-year models or newer, which is amazing for our system,” he said.
Most of the new buses were made possible through state grants that were funded through the settlement of a state lawsuit against the Volkswagen corporation regarding alleged discrepancies of environmental standards on some of their vehicles that were manufactured in Tennessee.
“I want to make this clear, Joseph Southern and L.V. Albright are doing a great job,” Seal said. “We have been able to do all of that with the money we had to replace buses with plus the grant funds, and believe me, that was no easy task to get the grant money.”
Southern is the system’s Transportation Supervisor and Albright is the Mechanic Supervisor.
• Renovation of the gym floor at the Middle/High School is in process and should be completed within a week, Seal said.
• The old, soiled carpeting in four first-grade classrooms at the Elementary School, two special ed rooms, the principal’s office and conference room, has been removed and replaced with new “floating” floors.
“That 20-year old carpet was stained, stunk and was just not good,” Seal said. “It is now ripped up and gone.”
• Seal discussed with the board the issue of teacher pay raises.
When the current budget was set, he said, the board had talked about giving teachers a one percent salary hike.
“Initially, the Governor put in for a two percent raise, but what happened is, last week they (the state’s General Assembly) came in ad vote all of those raises out,” he said. “If you leave in that one percent, that’s $70,000 that will have to come out of our fund balance. It won’t come from BEP money.”
Seal said that the Board and the new Director of Schools, Dr. Belcher, will need to consider that and several other factors going forward into the 2020-21 year.
“First of all, we lost several kids this year and our attendance was off due thee COVID pandemic,” Seal said. “We went from an enrollment of 948 to 905. That’s a huge loss.”
Fewer students enrolled means fewer dollars coming to the county from Nashville, he said.
Based on those numbers, the system will lose about $183,000 for the current school year.
Right now, Seal said, the system has about $3 million in its reserve fund balance, but warned that, with a continued decline in enrollment, and providing money for “unfunded” raises, it won’t take long for that amount to be depleted.
“We’ve been on the downhill slide for years when it comes to enrollment,” he said.
A recent survey sent out to parents indicated that an alarming number say they plan to homeschool their child/children beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
A continued decrease, coupled with costs of a raise, could mean the BOE would have to pull out $300,000 to $400,000 from its reserve funds just to balance its budget.
Plus, Seal said, the system will be faced with the unexpected costs of still having to deal with the ongoing COVID pandemic in the upcoming school year, which is tentatively set to start on Aug. 3.
“We have to get electronic thermometers for every teacher, there have to be hand sanitizer stations in every classroom, and we will go in after school and fog every building, every bus, and every classroom with disinfectant,” Seal added. “Just know that school will be very different this upcoming year. We have to do a lot more cleaning, and those hand sanitizer dispensers have to be refilled.”
Seal said it will be up to Dr. Belcher and the board to decide whether to leave in place the one percent raise that was previously approved for the FY 20-21 budget.
• The board’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 16, in the office of Director of Schools.