ARIZONA CITY — The Toltec School District has a target date of Oct. 19 for allowing students the opportunity to return to in-person schooling.
But there was disagreement among school board members as to the accuracy of COVID-19 data used in determining that date.
Superintendent Denise Rogers told the board Wednesday that there are now two different data reports available for the COVID-19 benchmarks. One is for cases in all of Pinal County and the second is specifically for the district’s area.
In order to determine when it is safe to reopen its schools, Rogers asked the board which report they would prefer to go by to make that decision.
Board member Dennis Callahan was against using any type of data to determine when schools should be reopened because it has been noted recently that the data is inaccurate.
“It changes too fast for us to try to select what data we’re going to use when we don’t even know what’s right,” Callahan said. “Let’s use our own personal judgment, our own better judgement that we have to say why can’t we open the school and allow those that want to go to school and allow the teachers that want to teach. Why can’t we open up and allow them to go to school and then just go ahead with the online for those that don’t want to and leave it at that. What’s stopping us? Inaccurate numbers are stopping us, inaccurate numbers are keeping our kids out of school, inaccurate numbers are causing all kinds of hardships on families. That doesn’t even make sense to me to make a decision on what we know is inaccurate information.”
Board President Mark Lindgren and member Tim Cason agreed that the district needs to follow some type of guide.
“I have to have some data, I have to have something,” Lindgren said. “At this moment in time I’d like to go with just the Toltec School District, I don’t want to go with Pinal County or anybody else. I want to make sure that they bring us proper information and we’re finding out more and more, and proper information is going to come out. By the end of this first quarter I’m betting that they can’t push it much longer but we do have to go by some guideline.”
In the meantime, students at both Arizona City Elementary School and Toltec Elementary School will continue with remote learning, which the district has made possible for all students by providing hotspots from T-Mobile.
“We mentioned this to you a couple months ago that Mitrelink was offering the ability to provide some free internet to students in our community,” Business Manager Tim McCain told the board. “At the time they were doing it, we could not have rolled that out fast enough to be able to get the students online in time for school, that’s why we went with the hotspots.”
Even with the hotspots, there are a few students who still have connectivity issues. The district approved an Antenna Site License Agreement with Mitrelink, which allows 100 GB of high-speed internet data free of charge per month for each student and a 10-cent charge per GB afterwards.
An antenna will be placed on the gymnasium roof at both schools and then Mitrelink will also place an antenna at the house of those students where the T-Mobile hotspots are not working.
“We will be selective in who we are providing it to,” McCain said. “In order to provide that internet for our students, we would be willing to purchase the routers but those routers, just like our hotspots, are locked down to our devices, that internet would be locked down to our device. If they want to provide their own router they can do so, and they can pay for their own internet above the 100 GB.”
Mitrelink will pay the district $500 annually as part of the five-year agreement.
Callahan questioned if this internet service would still be needed after in-person schooling is allowed and Rogers responded that she believes there will be a new normal.
“We might have families with students that might prefer to learn at home, not just for the rest of this school year but for a period of time going forward, so I just want to make sure that we’re able to accommodate that,” Rogers said.
During its meeting the board approved a $66,000 buyout with American Tower Corporation.
The district has a ground lease for a cell tower on the Toltec campus that expires in 2025, but there are currently no tenants on the tower.
The district had three options, in the first two if American Tower decided to end the agreement at any time, the district would get nothing.
American Tower paid $1,100 monthly and had asked for a 40% reduction on the base rent payment or offered the $66,000 buyout option.
“Looking forward and knowing the consolidation that has happened in the industry, we just had T-Mobile and Sprint merge,” McCain said. “There’s been other mergers that have happened that have brought the available number of tenants down to a very small number of tenants for that tower.”