The Wiregrass Foundation is donating up to $1.3 million to Dothan City Schools to sustain its instructional units through the next academic year.
The donation will cover the possible loss of state funding due to losing 333 students in enrollment from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2019-2020 school year after the system underwent major restructuring changes.
“We felt like there were so many changes. There were big changes, and they needed more than one year to show that it’s working,” Wiregrass Foundation Executive Director Barbara Alford said. “This is for the teachers in the trenches who are already working hard to make those things happen.”
The Dothan City School system has struggled for years with losses in student enrollment, which directly affects the level of funding it receives from the state. After a massive restructuring effort that combined several schools, the school system experienced its biggest year-to-year loss yet of 333 students.
“I think some families wanted to be a little more certain of what was happening before keeping their children in the public schools,” Alford said.
Central office officials estimated the loss in student enrollment could lose the district state foundation funding for up to 20 instructional units.
“We wanted the teachers to be able to focus on the positive without a threat hanging over them, not knowing whether those things would stay in place,” Alford said.
Superintendent Phyllis Edwards discussed the reported potential loss of revenue with the charity that has already partnered with the school system to bring programs into two of its elementary schools: Selma Street and Highlands.
Alford said she had seen improvement among students in the programs, and school officials reported improvement in academic achievement and family engagement. However, the rapid spread of COVID-19 caused schools to be unable to implement standardized testing to track measurable gains.
Edwards made a presentation about to the foundation’s board, who unanimously approved her request.
“Dothan City Schools is very thankful and grateful for the partnership with the Wiregrass Foundation,” Edwards said, “the support of these committed Dothan residents, who just want to see DCS be successful in educating our young residents, is paramount.”
The Dothan City School Board unanimously approved the gift at its school board meeting, conducted via Zoom, on Monday.
Board Member Chris Maddox acknowledged that the board does not usually approve large sums as gifts for recurring expenses, such as salaries, but the restructuring of the school systems and the expected loss in sales tax revenue due to COVID-19’s local impact present extraordinary circumstances.
The donation will allow the school system to continue its level of instructional funding with locally-funded units and give the system more time to draw students back to the district.
“These are very challenging times for the Wiregrass community,” Alford said in a letter to the school board. “The coronavirus is reminding us all of the importance of family, our love for our children, and our dependence on those who prepare them for the future.”