Federal safety suggestions for school reopening in the fall have sent a wave of concern through parents and educators who pictured classrooms of masked children sitting behind desks equipped with plastic partitions.
At Thursday’s Marysville Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Diane Allen said the real concern is how you even get the students to the buildings.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently offered guidelines for schools operating in the age of the coronavirus. Those guidelines included suggestions for classroom operations, but also urged social distancing on buses, such as seating one child per row and skipping rows where possible.
For a district that serves as many students and square miles as Marysville, that is a problem.
“Busing would be a significant challenge,” Allen said this morning. “In my opinion, it is one of the biggest challenges for Marysville.”
With more than 5,000 students and just 34 full-time bus drivers, limiting capacity would likely force the district to create double or even triple routes to collect all of the students. By law, K-8 students living outside of a two-mile radius from the school building and some special needs students are guaranteed school transportation.
But the superintendent urged caution in looking too far into the future, noting that the nation’s approach to the pandemic looks very different now than it did two months ago. By the time students begin to prepare for their return to school in a couple months, Allen said, thing may settle down considerably.
“Let’s just be cautious,” Allen said. “Instead of just saying that’s absolutely what is going to happen.”
But district preparations for 2021 can’t wait for the situation to come into sharp focus and as such, Allen said the officials are preparing for a multitude of scenarios with the help of students, parents and the area medical community.
The district will be collecting data from students in grades 7-12 about their opinions on Marysville’s remote learning program, to find out what the youths felt were strengths and weaknesses of operation.
The district will also be soliciting input from families from all grade levels to determine their concerns about safety and vision for remote learning moving forward. Allen said any plan for school next year will involve additional support from parents and the district needs to hear their opinions.
After collecting the information, district officials hope to prepare three or four potential reopening plans which will be shared with the board at the June meeting. Allen said several plans will be necessary in order to be responsive to changing conditions over the coming months.
Allen has also enlisted the help of local medical professionals to give advice on how to proceed with summer activities and plan for the reopening of school. The handful of local doctors will help guide local decision-making, as will input from the Union County Health Department, Allen said.
“We will look for best practices and learn from others so that we can provide the best educational setting for our students and staff with the safeguards to ensure everyone’s safety,” Allen said today.
But she reiterated that all guidelines are constantly evolving.
“One step at a time I guess is what I’m trying to say.”
While Allen and other administrators prepare for the uncertainties of a reopening, Treasurer Todd Johnson knows exactly what he will be facing – funding operations with $1 million less than expected in the district coffers.
When the state announced immediate funding cuts to all districts in the state a few weeks ago, Marysville learned that it would be taking a seven-figure hit this year and a certain, but unspecified, cut next year.
Johnson said the spring school shutdown offered the district an unforeseen savings of $200,000 and federal money being given to districts is expected to infuse nearly $300,000 more.
While the district does have millions of dollars in cash reserves, officials opted to institute additional cost saving measures, two of which were approved by the board Thursday.
All district administrators, with the exception of Allen and Johnson, receive performance bonuses if they meet various goals, such as student achievement. Those incentives will be suspended for this year, saving the district about $65,000.
The loss of the spring sports season also prompted the board to reduce the money being paid to coaches. The 29 coaches will be paid approximately 60% of their total contracts for the lost season, saving the district about $50,000
Several board members noted that the cuts are no reflection on the yearlong commitments by coaches at administrators.
While these reductions and a handful of others will allow the district to nearly offset the lost $1 million, Johnson said the uncertainty of next year’s certain reduction has forced him to adjust the district’s five-year financial forecast.
While Johnson’s estimates had built in 5% reduction in state funding each of the next five years, the current financial climate led him adjust next year to a 10% estimated reduction, returning to 5% each year after.
The district is estimated to spend more than it takes in by 2021, but because of large reserves the district would not see a cash deficit until after 2024. The district had predicted that it would need to begin considering a levy for new operating money in 2023.
Johnson said that timeline is still in place, even with the estimated 10 percent loss in state revenue, but the cash balance at the end of 2024 becomes much narrower. He said if the state cuts are larger than expected the district might have to reduce its levy timeline by a year.
Johnson said part of the problem is that the state has weighted the cuts toward districts which have large cash balances and those that place a lower tax burden on residents, both of which apply to Marysville.
“I guess you kind of get penalized, in my opinion, for doing things the right way,” Johnson said.
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