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During the 1920s, Paul Tyson built a dynasty at Waco High, winning four state championships with some of the most dominant teams in Texas schoolboy history.

Baylor regents approve $73 million budget cut, COVID-19 protection measures

Baylor University regents approved $73.3 million in budget cuts during their meeting Friday, landing on a $679.9 million operating budget for the upcoming year.

The university has implemented a hiring freeze, and administrators expect to cut staff positions and employ fewer adjunct instructors in the fall, all a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its expected effects on fall enrollment and the economy as a whole.

The hiring freeze will result in about 50 unfilled positions remaining that way, and vice presidents are reviewing which filled staff positions to eliminate, likely 15 to 20 total, President Linda Livingstone said.

“But we have not finalized that work yet,” Livingstone said. “It will be finalized in the coming weeks, and we’ll certainly have to continue to monitor that as we look to the future and see what fall looks like and what’s happening in the economy.”

Livingstone said full-time faculty positions are mostly unaffected so far, but the university will defer merit-based pay increases and reduce its employee retirement contribution from 10.8% to 8% for all faculty and staff. Administrators will review that change again in two years. The university will also employ fewer adjuncts in the fall.

“We presented a kind of budget to the board that is a different kind of budget than we’ve presented before,” Livingstone said.

Out of the overall $73.3 million cut, $18.5 million will come from cost avoidance, $30.3 million will come from cost reductions and $24.5 million will come from one-time funding reallocations.

The budget for academics will be reduced by 4.2%; the budget for student life will be reduced 5.7%; athletics 8.8%; and administration and support functions, 19.7%.

“As we built the budget we worked very hard to protect the academic core of the university and the elements of the university that support not just the academic experience of our students, but the student life experience of our students,” Livingstone said. “And so we asked our vice presidents to be very strategic about the decisions that we made with the budget mitigation strategies we put into place.”

The cuts represent about a 10% hit to what the overall budget would have been otherwise. But compared to last year, the budget will be down about 2%, or $14.2 million, according to a Baylor press release.

Dining and residence halls, which will be subject to COVID-19 safety measures next semester, are expected to contribute to a decline in next year’s revenue. Livingstone said the university is expecting fewer students in its dorms and dining halls, and budgeted accordingly.

“Housing and dining match very closely to what happens with enrollment,” Livingstone said.

The board also passed a resolution authorizing Livingstone and the administration to “take all necessary actions to ensure a return to a safe and educationally fulfilling on-campus environment” in the fall.

That would encompass measures including working with the local public health district to study, research and implement whatever sanitation and social distancing measures are necessary. It also would include academic changes and accommodations for faculty and students who are at greater risk for COVID-19.

The board also elected a new chair and vice chairs. Mark Rountree will take over as chair from Jerry Clements. Larry Heard, Melissa Purdy Mines and Dennis Wiles will serve as vice chairs.

“It’s been a real privilege. I’m sad to leave the board, but it is in very good hands going forward,” Clements said.

During a media availability after Friday’s meeting, Livingstone thanked Clements for her work.

“She’s been an unbelievable partner in all that we’ve worked on this year, particularly in the last couple of months with everything we’ve done with the pandemic,” Livingstone said.

Livingstone also gave the board an update on Give Light, the university’s ongoing fundraising campaign. Livingstone said the pandemic has slowed down donations somewhat, but this will mark the university’s second-highest year for fundraising. As of April 30, Give Light had raised $864.3 million toward Baylor’s $1.1 billion goal. The Baylor Academic Challenge, created last year as part of a $100 million gift in support of the comprehensive campaign, has funded nine new endowed chair positions so far, and the university is working on adding six more.

While you were gone: Photos from Waco's hibernation in a spring lost to COVID-19

While you were gone: Photos from Waco's hibernation in a spring lost to COVID-19

Gyms in Waco, across Texas preparing to reopen Monday

Gyms may lawfully open for business Monday, and operators have been sweating the details to ensure members enjoy a safe return.

Social distancing, face masks, sanitizers, temperature-taking gadgets and new rules now occupy workout venues around Greater Waco forced into hibernation for almost two months because of COVID-19 precautions.

Ironically, perhaps, the curtain rises the same day Texas Gov. Greg Abbott may allow restaurants to increase dining room occupancy from 25% to 50%, fattening the chances calorie intake will follow suit.

Jason Burt’s Crunch Fitness at Valley Mills and Waco drives has received a body and time makeover as the big day approaches.

For starters, the previously 24/7 operation will open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

Opening day, Monday, is the exception to that schedule.

“I will open at 10 a.m. Monday. That way we will have everybody here and ready to go,” Burt said. “We’ll have a greeter set up at the front door, welcoming people back and telling them about the new things we’re doing. We are allowed 25% occupancy, which means we will have 111 people in the building, which does not include management and staff.”

For a time Crunch will accept only credit or debit cards for on-site purchases, as it transitions to a “cashless and touchless” modus operandi.

Signs will enforce social distancing. Hand sanitizers will sprout everywhere. Uniformed cleaning attendants will work morning, mid-afternoon and evening shifts. Every other piece of cardio equipment will be available, not every piece, creating more space between members, Burt said in an interview.

Crunch will temporarily discontinue live classes. Members wanting access to yoga mats must bring their own. Staffers must wear masks and gloves, and Crunch will provide the same to members wanting them.

“First thing, we will take the temperature of anyone entering the gym. If it’s 100.3 degrees or below, you are good to go,” Burt said.

Crunch had more than 8,000 members before the pandemic struck.

The state says gyms, exercise facilities and exercise classes must operate at 25% occupancy. Locker rooms and shower facilities will remain closed, but restrooms may open. Employees and contractors of the gym or exercise facility are not counted toward the occupancy limitation.

Robbie Little, who owns WRS Athletic Club, 5047 Franklin Ave., said his 1,100-member fitness center likewise has been thoroughly vetted. It will open regular hours Monday through Saturday and close Sundays for deep cleaning.

“We’ve placed social distancing stickers on the floor, installed 10 more hand-wipe stations and 10 more hand-sanitizing stations, and sneeze shields at the front desk,” Little said. “Every piece of equipment is at least 6 feet apart in the weight room, and we’ve spread other amenities over three rooms.”

Little said he will take the temperatures of staffers, but not members.

“We do have a big sign on the front door suggesting you stay home if you feel sick or are sneezing and coughing, but we’re not going to play doctor,” he said. “Our members are professional enough not to come here if they’re feeling sick. I’ve talked with people in different states, Georgia, for example, and they took temperatures that first day, and it was a disaster.”

Asking someone to leave, he said, “is labeling them as having coronavirus.”

Gold’s Gym on New Road did not return a phone message, but a Facebook message states the club looks forward to seeing members again Monday.

“We’re hard at work preparing our club so we can safely open for you,” according to the message, which concludes with, “See you at the gym.”

Roosters and other early risers take note, The Muscle Cave Bar and Gym will open at 4:45 a.m. Monday to host a fitness class 15 minutes later, co-owner Franny Cochran said. She and her husband, Doug Cochran, introduced The Muscle Cave in July 2017, following Franny’s loss of more than 100 pounds.

“I was inspired to help others,” Franny Cochran said by phone.

COVID-19 did not help the bottom line, she said.

“We have taken a pretty good hit,” Cochran said. “I believe everyone has. But we have an amazing landlord who works with us, and we have no employees. We applied for $10,000 in assistance being offered to small business, and we were approved to receive some, but not anywhere near that amount.”

Asked if members expressed concern over returning to a group setting, Cochran said more than 90% have signed up for classes.

She has installed sanitizing stations, plans temperature checks and will encourage attendees to wear protective gloves and masks.

At WRS Athletic Club, owner Little said he does not expect a big rush.

“The members I’ve reached out to, they’re anxious to come back. But some are going to wait a couple of weeks,” Little said. “But that’s going to be a large percentage of people in general, not just those using gyms.”

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver said Friday he is generally pleased with the community’s response to COVID-19, but is disappointed in the number of people still not wearing masks in public. He said leaders, including himself, could have done a better job emphasizing their importance.

He said their use must accompany Greater Waco’s return to normalcy.

The number of residents countywide hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped to zero Wednesday, but it did not stay there long. Four patients have active cases of the disease, including one new case announced Friday, and two patients were hospitalized Friday, according to the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.

Photo gallery: Waco reopens for business — Scenes around town

Waco reopens for business: Scenes around town on May 1

$3 million in COVID-19 aid to offset Waco Family Health Center losses

The Waco Family Health Center has received a $980,839 federal grant for COVID-19 testing and related expenses, boosting recent public and private aid related to the coronavirus to more than slightly more than $3 million, but officials say more may be needed to recover from a drop in non-COVID-19 patients.

The most recent grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, announced earlier this month by Sen. John Cornyn’s office, joins a $100,000 Episcopal Health Foundation grant and an earlier $1.9 million federal emergency grant for COVID-19 testing and related changes in service and operation.

Dale Barron, the center’s chief advancement officer, said that while the emergency funding is welcome and necessary, the center is still suffering from lost revenue caused by a decline in patients since mid-March.

That drop came as center leaders advised patients with noncritical concerns to delay visits to give priority to COVID-19 testing and social distancing measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have been operating at a loss during this time,” Barron said. “We asked people not to come in and we did that knowing it would significantly affect our income, but we felt it was the right thing to do.”

The Family Health Center operates 15 sites in McLennan County with 550 employees and an annual budget of $66 million. Last year, it served 58,831 patients with about 75% of its revenue coming from patients. About a third of its patients have no insurance coverage, with Medicaid and Medicare covering about half of the center’s clients and commercial insurance another 16%, Barron said.

To minimize the need for in-person visits and reduce the possibility of coronavirus transmission, the center has adopted measures including drive-up clinics, social distancing in reception rooms and encouraging telehealth visits for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.

The center also is working to expand a contactless pharmacy service that allows patients to have their medicine mailed to them or delivered rather than having to make an in-person pharmacy visit.

Dental care and other services are resuming, but dental staff and others who were not seeing patients in recent months saw their duties shift to include help with COVID-19 screenings and tests.

The emergency grants will help maintain center staffing and allow trials of pharmacy delivery, Family Health Center CEO Dr. Jackson Griggs said during a press conference this week with city and county officials.

With the gradual relaxing of some coronavirus containment measures, the center’s patient traffic is starting to pick up, but caution is still high.

“We’re starting to see the number of patients increase, but that’s going to take time and trust,” Barron said.

Waco ISD students petition district to allow family, friends at graduation ceremony

An online petition calling for the Waco Independent School District to let some friends and family members attend the class of 2020 graduation ceremonies scheduled for May 29 and 30 has almost reached its goal of 1,500 signatures.

As of Friday evening, the Change.org petition had garnered more than 1,230 signatures from students, parents, family members and friends.

Waco ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon said the decision not to let anyone other than seniors and district staff attend the graduation ceremonies came down to safety concerns about increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19. Both the University High School and Waco High School ceremonies will be broadcast on the Waco ISD channel and at WacoISD.org/live.

Additionally, graduates can sign up for individual time slots between June 15 and 26 to pick up their diploma at their school campus with family members. They can have their photos taken by a professional photographer, with graduates in their caps and gowns.

But many seniors and their supporters — at least 1,230 of them — do not understand why Waco ISD will not allow guests at its graduation ceremonies, while other local school districts including Midway, China Spring, La Vega and Connally ISDs, will.

On or after May 29, all school districts may hold outdoor in-person graduation ceremonies while practicing social distancing and limiting attendance to students, families, friends and staff, according to the Texas Education Agency. District staff must screen all participating students, staff and guests by asking 11 questions related to COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone with signs of the 11 symptoms must be excluded from the event. Members of the same household do not have to remain 6 feet apart, but all others must maintain that distance.

China Spring High School, Connally High School, La Vega High School and Midway High School all will hold their graduation ceremonies at stadiums, while allowing a limited number of guests. Midway has not determined how many guests graduates can have, while China Spring will allow up to 8 guests, Connally will allow four and La Vega will allow two family members.

Waco High senior Katherine Burnham said district officials probably made the decision they thought was best, but she wants her friends and family to be there to celebrate her four years’ worth of accomplishments at the school.

“Graduating high school is such a big milestone,” Burnham said. “It represents so many things — the end of a chapter, maturity, going into adulthood, college, a new life. Because graduation represents such a milestone, I think the family deserves to be there in person to watch their kid graduate.”

Waco High Senior Class Vice President Grant Hicks agrees with his classmate. While he understands the severity of the issue, he thinks the “abrupt decision needs to be revised,” he said.

“As the class vice president of Waco High, I have heard the numerous complaints and cries of my senior student body on the situation,” Hicks said. “I must admit it is highly upsetting to hear that neighboring school districts will be hosting formal graduations and configuring new ways to make them happen, but we are not receiving the same. Although we are aware the world is unfair, we should never feel our voices have been disregarded and unaccounted by a district we chose to spend our best years at. We have had our senior year robbed.”

Hicks said the ban on guests hits particularly hard for first-generation graduates whose families wanted nothing more than to see their children walk across a stage and receive a diploma.

“There are plenty of people at Waco High who are first-generation students, and their families were beyond excited to see their young ones graduate and do something they weren’t able to do,” he said. “My heart goes out to them even more because that moment has now been stripped from them.”

Both students think Waco ISD should follow the other local school districts’ practices and allow a limited number of guests. Kincannon said she understands where the students are coming from but that the logistics of screening thousands of people for 11 symptoms is the biggest obstacle for the district. Each high school has about 400 seniors.

“How do you do that with fidelity?” Kincannon said. “The county has done such a fantastic job of controlling the spread of the virus, so we took a really safe, cautious approach to try to honor the kids to be together one last time and have a ceremony, which we felt like we could broadcast nicely on our local television channel as well as on Facebook Live.”

While the final decision came down to Kincannon, she met with student representatives from both high schools, the high school principals and some assistant principals, as well as senior counselors and graduation coordinators to discuss alternative graduation plans. The students included student council presidents and the highest ranking seniors from both schools. Kincannon said a virtual ceremony was seen as a last resort and that she heard that students wanted most of all to be back together again after going on spring break without knowing they would not see their classmates again the next week.

Asked if she would reconsider her decision, Kincannon said things have been fluid during the pandemic and that anything is possible at this point, including a spike in COVID-19 cases in McLennan County.

“My decision is going to be based on the screening,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to have a ceremony that’s anything less than what the students want. I want to make sure we do what we can do to implement a screening process with fidelity. I’m continuing to study the screening requirements and also consulting with local health care providers.”

For the next two weeks, Burnham said she will still try to remain positive. After all, she said, the world is living through historic times, and sacrifices must be made.

“Regardless of what happens during our graduation, the opportunity to walk the stage is a gift enough, and I can hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” she said. “Whether or not our family and friends are able to attend, it’s a monumental event enough that I appreciate, regardless of the circumstances, having the opportunity to graduate, and I look forward to what I’m going to do in the future.”

Photo gallery: Virus outbreak and more

Today’s top pics: Virus Outbreak and more

Glenn Robinson to retire as Hillcrest president

Glenn Robinson saw Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center move across town to Interstate 35, merge twice and become part of what is now Baylor Scott & White Health, a recognized healthcare force regionally and statewide.

Now he and wife Rhonda want to see more of their grandchildren.

Robinson announced Friday he will retire as president of Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center, effective in early July, ending a 12-year stay with Hillcrest and capping a 35-year career in the health care field that included leadership roles in hospitals from Oregon to Alabama.

Since accepting the position as president, “there have been so many moments that made me very proud of each and every member of our team and the amazing way they have cared for our community,” Robinson said in a statement.

He went on to praise the hospital’s “frontline heroes,” especially as they continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic locally.

For the next year, Robinson said he and Rhonda will spend time with grandchildren in Charleston, South Carolina, the Houston suburb of Katy and in Waco.

At 65, Robinson said he and his family will remain in Waco.

“I must admit I’m excited about this next season in my life,” he said.

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver said his respect for Robinson has grown as the two leaders talked almost daily in their collaborative efforts to combat the coronavirus. He said Robinson is among the best at leading, communicating and inspiring confidence in others, qualities that have well served the community and the health care entity he leads.

“I’m still trying to deal with this news,” Deaver said of his phone call from Robinson on Friday informing him of his decision.

Robinson, in a phone interview, called COVID-19 a game-changing illness, “a defining moment for our generation,” and one that will lead to some long-term changes for the better.

“It is causing us to pause, and not everything coming out of the situation is bad,” he said. “We are learning new ways to adapt, learning new ways to deliver health care. We’ve known for some time that the most cost effective approach to care is through video visits, e-visits. One sector of the population, that being my generation, has taken longer to adapt and convert. But we’ve seen a decade of evolution in about eight weeks. We have an incentive to learn to Zoom with our doctor, how efficient it is and far less time consuming. This pandemic will change the world forever, and in some ways for good.”

Asked about the former Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center campus sitting vacant in North Waco, near Herring Avenue, Robinson said stakeholders remain confident it could become a setting for mental health services.

Still, damage to the state’s revenue sources inflicted by COVID-19 could cripple short-term efforts to repurpose the facility, Robinson said.

Robinson will remain with Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center through the fiscal year. He expects a search to start soon for his successor.

Philip Patterson, president of Ascension Providence in Waco, said he is gratified the collaboration between Hillcrest, Ascension Providence and city and county leaders has mitigated the damage inflicted by COVID-19.

“The disease has not ravaged our community as it has others,” he said.

Of Robinson he said, “I’m going to miss him. I’ve enjoyed the many community projects we faced in partnership. We spoke weekly, even more often during the pandemic, and I enjoyed his personality, his making sure you knew you had his attention and his focus. I will miss that the most.”

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said he also learned Friday of Robinson’s retirement. He said his contributions to health care have been profound.

“He’s been a great addition to our community,” Felton said. “I learned to bounce things off him because he always had a good perspective on things pertaining to our community. His are big shoes to fill.”

Waco businessman Gordon Swanson, a member of the Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center board, said Robinson brought “an all-time high level of care” to the institution. He said the board officially learned of Robinson’s decision Friday morning, leaving Swanson “a little surprised, but not really.”

Swanson said he could understand Robinson wanting to put family first.

“I’ve got to give Glenn the most credit for creating harmony among the physician groups, which is so much of what Baylor Scott & White is today,” Swanson said. “That was not so true when he took the reins. He has blended personalities, made doctors happy by making an effort to meet their needs. We have the most outstanding group of doctors the community could ever want. He’s a tremendous recruiter and communicator, which makes sense because he started off broadcasting TV news in his younger days.”

Robinson is a native of Georgia and a graduate of the University of Alabama. He completed graduate school training at Trinity University in San Antonio.

During Friday’s interview, Robinson immediately recalled the occasion that galvanized his pride in local health care services. It was April 17, 2013, when a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the community of West, claiming the lives of 15, mostly first responders, and injuring hundreds of area residents.

“Every person who came to either of the two Waco hospitals that night survived and walked out of that hospital,” Robinson said. “That was the same week the nation was focused on the Boston Marathon bombing. Our hospitals treated more people that night than were treated in Boston.”

Robinson is past chairman of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and was named to the board of trustees of the American Hospital Association.

COVID-19 test keeping National Guard safe