Fairbanks waits for guidance from state on reopening

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Fairbanks officials are looking at how they will return to school in the fall.
“We have constructed contingency plans for a variety of scenarios that we could encounter throughout the course of the year,” said Fairbanks Superintendent Adham Schirg.
He said the district had intended to communicate those plans to parent and the community earlier this week.
“And then the governor shifted his press conference and said his information about schools wouldn’t come out until Thursday,” Schirg said.
He explained that while district officials have plans, they want to wait until they hear Gov. Mike DeWine’s information, “to see if there is anything major in there that would change what we are doing.”
At a meeting this week, Schirg told the school board he does not expect DeWine to say anything that is, “really going to shock or surprise any of us.”
He did say the governor’s delayed guidance “delay’s when you have to make decisions.”
Schirg said the district is “building frameworks of we can operate at 100%, we have expectations if we are at a hybrid model, we have expectations if we are fully remote.”
“So, regardless of what our conditions are, we are going to have the ability to open and close very, very quickly,” Schirg said,
He said the frustrating part is not knowing the parameters for opening or closing. He said it is difficult to communicate with parents and community members without information.
Schirg said he believes decisions about opening and closing will be made at the local level. He said he believes there will be a “county-by-county” approach, led by the health department. He said he believes the three districts with buildings in Union County will all make the same decisions.
“We don’t have the details of what that looks like,” Schirg said.
He added that districts would like guidance about “specific conditions that are going to shift our model.”
Schirg has said that COVID-19 pandemic has changed not only the district’s teaching model, but also its finances.
Schirg said before the COVID-19 pandemic, the district expected to enter deficit spending during the 2020 or 2021 fiscal years.
“In anticipation of this financial position, we began to take steps to balance our revenues and expenditures,” the superintendent wrote.
In anticipation of the deficit, the district made a series of changes including eliminating a position, adjusting the technology schedule and how curriculum is purchased.
Earlier this year, DeWine cut funding for school districts, including $266,899 for Fairbanks.
“Our financial picture has shifted throughout the course of the year.” Schirg wrote. “Overall, we continue to sit in a relatively positive position. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, we must closely monitor the changing conditions and adjust accordingly.”
He said that since the state’s announcement, “our financial projections have changed.”
Based on the cuts and anticipated future cuts, district officials are anticipating a $526,000 deficit for the next fiscal year. 
“We are taking steps in the short-term to ensure the continued quality of education for students, preserve as many full-time positions as possible and to protect the long-term financial health of the district,” Schirg wrote. “While we do have a healthy cash balance that will allow us to absorb some of this uncertainty, we cannot solely depend on savings to navigate this downturn.”
The district is implementing cost savings measures, including a hiring freeze for vacant positions, eliminating an aide position, reducing extended days, reducing all department budgets by at least 20% and reducing technology and curriculum costs.



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