The Alcoa Board of Education approved a healthy addition to its 2021-22 budget Tuesday, July 20, a federal grant for more than half a million dollars that will pay for its school nurses, COVID-19 testing and more.

The Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention totals $562,120.53 and for one year will cover the cost of a full-time nurse for each of Alcoa’s four schools. Including salaries and benefits, that will free nearly $280,000 in the school’s budget to be used for something else.

The grant also will cover a $100,000 contract with Winbigler Medical for COVID-19 testing, supplies and reporting, and $130,060.80 for medical supplies, including personal protective equipment. Winbigler already contracts with the district to provide a clinic for school employees, their spouses and dependents at the high school.

During the past school year Winbigler also provided drive-up COVID-19 testing in their driveway, so an employee could have a test Friday and know by the end of the weekend if they were positive.

“We received the grant because we said we would have the ability for our nurses to do COVID testing,” Patty Thomas, the district’s director of federal programs, grants management, nursing, and career and technical education, told the board during a work session Monday, July 19.

Thomas said Winbigler had approached the schools about offering more testing last year. “I was a afraid of it; the nurses were afraid of it. We were afraid of bringing lots of symptomatic people into the building or even into the parking lot, because there were still a lot of unknowns this time last year,” she said.

They tested the process on Thomas last Friday, July 16, with a school nurse administering the test. “It’s not one of those jab your brain swabs; it’s more like a tickle inside your nose,” Thomas said. A courier picks up the tests and takes them to a Blount County lab. By Saturday afternoon Thomas was able to log in and see that she was negative.

“Our nurses will be able to do the same for faculty and staff and for students,” she said, at no cost because of the grant.

Under Alcoa policy a student with a fever is sent home, and now the school district can offer COVID-19 testing on campus if the parent wishes.

Thomas told the board that the Blount County Health Department is concerned that parents who must return to work may send students to school who may be ill.

“It’s pretty much going to be on the honor system for parents to do the right thing,” Thomas said.

The grant includes some funding for stipends for nurses for COVID-19 related work, such as contact tracing on the weekend. Last Halloween, Thomas said, the intermediate school nurse spent the entire Saturday doing contact tracing for an event.

“We’re hoping we don’t see as much as last year,” Thomas said.

Another $23,601.68 from the grant can be used for upgrading school clinics, which may include computers.

Two new vehicles

Alcoa also is spending about $16,000 under that grant for a Kubota RTV to provide easy transportation for nurses, equipment and supplies among the four schools on Alcoa’s campus.

That’s the third vehicle Alcoa has purchased through a grant Thomas has won.

The first was a mobile career exploration bus, and the second is a $42,128 eight-passenger SUV to transport students in Alcoa’s nursing program to clinical sites.

Tuesday, the school board also approved the budget for the $758,134.70 Innovative High Schools Grant ACS received in partnership with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, announced earlier, which will allow students to complete the first trimester of a licensed practical nursing degree before they graduate from high school.

Board member Steve Marsh noted during the Tuesday meeting those two grants alone total more than $1.3 million.

“That’s not a drop in the bucket of what she does,” Director Becky Stone said.

Thomas has said before that applying for grants brings out her competitive side, and at Tuesday’s meeting she told the board, “I do this for the kids.”

With the LPN program she noted they can be ready for the LPN exam the December after they graduate from high school. “They never have to leave Blount County to get their nursing certification,” Thomas said.

More grants

During Tuesday’s meeting the board also approved a $50,000 federal Perkins Reserve grant and a $27,000 grant from the Arconic Foundation to cover career exploration materials, equipment for career and technical education classes and industry certification training.

The board approved new leases for 11 photocopiers under a state contract and updates to the 2020-21 budget too. With revenues higher than expected, the school board did not need to use $80,000 from its fund balance, previously undesignated funding.

The district also was able to cover $170,000 the schools expected from the city to help cover the cost of Chromebook computers as in previous years but did not receive in 2020-21, which ended June 30.

Budget Director Tom Shamblin explained during Monday’s work session the city was concerned that another year of consecutive funding may affect the calculation of how much “maintenance of effort” the city must provide in funding under state law, but he expects the city will provide funding for the computers during the 2021-22 school year.

Education Reporter

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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