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Ayers Foundation partnership changing futures in Unicoi County

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jun 8, 2017 at 9:43 PM

ERWIN — One school year out from the launch of the Ayers Foundation post secondary education partnership with Unicoi County schools, 98 percent of the county high school’s class of 2017 is headed for higher education.

In a year-in-review presentation to the Board of Education on Thursday, Jodi Lane Bradford, a college access counselor trained by the foundation to help juniors and seniors at Unicoi County High School find the funding needed to attend the colleges of their choice, reported that 100 percent of the school’s 187 graduating seniors completed their federal financial aid and Tennessee Promise paperwork and applied to at least one college.

The even more impressive figure reported by Bradford was that 98 percent of the graduating class were set to enter a postsecondary education program or military training, securing an estimated total of $1.4 million in tuition and representing the high school at a total of 22 higher learning institutions in the 2017-18 school year,

Director of Schools John English said that when the foundation’s College Ready Partnership with the school system was announced in August “we said this was going to be a game changer and now we can see it.”

“The high percentages right out of the gate speak volumes. And it’s just year one.”

Board member Garland Evely said he the college signing day luncheon hosted by the partnership at the end of the school year and featured at the conclusion of Bradford’s presentation included “a sense of excitement I haven’t seen before.”

Together with high school’s staff and Principal Chris Bogart, Evely said Bradford and the partnership’s Financial Aid Assistant Kayla Tapia had created a new atmosphere at the school.

Board Chairman Tyler Engle said, “I want to say how impressed I am. It is hard to believe how far we have come and the benefit that has been derived by our students in just one year.”

Bradford told the board the partnership would continue to the follow the graduating class members all the way through college as it continued to work with the high school’s rising juniors and seniors.

In other business on Thursday, the board approved end-of-year amendments to transfer line item funding as needed to close the books on the fiscal year ending June 30.

The budget amendments followed the board’s approval of the school system’s 2017-18 budget in a specially called meeting held on May 30.

The nearly $22 million budget, which the school system was required to submit the state on June 1 in order to qualify for Basic Education Plan funding, includes a 2 percent across the board raise for employees and was balanced with the use of approximately $444,000 in reserve funding.

In addition to the pay raise, the reserve funds were used to make up a projected shortfall in revenues resulting from an anticipated decrease in BEP funding in an amount that is still unknown and the loss of about $105,000 in federal Title 1 education funding.

English said the state’s BEP funding estimate has been changing monthly since April and is expected to change again before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

English has attributed the trending decrease in BEP funding, which dropped by approximately $500,000 in the 2016-17 school year, to factors that include declining enrollment experienced by many area school systems as a result of increased home schooling and online secondary education programs, local job losses and declining child population numbers.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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