Questions have been raised about the ability of the district to manage the expenses of the fall reopening of our schools. The adopted budget provided sufficient funding for the normal school year. However, this will be anything but normal and the Board of Education must be flexible in the use of the many internal accounts to meet the expenses that have arisen and will arise as a result of planning around the pandemic.
Estimated surpluses due to the school shut down in last year’s budget were applied to the 20-21 budget to provide a zero net budget to Durham and Middlefield. Some additional surplus have been realized at the close of the year and will be applied to meet some of the additional costs expected in handling the expenses for meeting Department of Health and CT State Department of Education requirements in order to insure the safest possible operation of our schools.
The district has already acquired PPE such as safety shields, thermometers, masks and gowns. Additionally, plexiglass barriers and approved cleaning supplies have been purchased and the associated protocols for cleaning and disinfecting have been developed. Additionally, 500 Chromebooks have been delivered and another 200 have been ordered to provide 1:1 availability of technology for all students if we are in a modified or full school closure situation in the coming year.
Planning for the district reopening has been underway for months with the formal plan being developed now for submission to the CTSDE on July 24. There are three main educational concepts for reopening to consider:
The first, and the one the CTSDE is encouraging at this time, is the complete opening with all students back in class. This will most closely meet the current budget with additional costs for protection equipment, cleaning, spacing and additional support for learning and social emotional needs.
The second is the opening for most students and remote or distance learning for others requiring both in class costs as above and added costs associated with distance teaching staff and technology equipment needs. At this time the CTSDE is requiring all districts to provide this option to all students. This will be the most expensive to meet both teaching formats. It will require the use of the surplus mentioned above and the reallocation of budgeted resources to meet safety and educational needs as necessary. The possibility of a midyear budget increase could exist.
The third is the continued full shutdown and remote teaching and learning. While some additional costs for professional development and digital equipment enhancements will be needed, this mode will result in some savings similar to last year due to canceling events, sports, transportation and reduced need for substitutes and cleaning. Some of these savings can be reallocated to remote teaching and learning needs as required.
The board will be addressing all of these options and the many permutations that will arise during implementation of the school year. The administration is currently following a protocol of looking at how best to use the existing budget to meet the needs and requirements associated with responding to this unprecedented challenge. The district will be awarded a small amount of money through the CARES Act (less than $40,000) and is keeping careful track of FEMA qualifying costs to submit for possible reimbursement.
The board is meeting weekly to stay ahead of our needs and will be using its Educational Resources Committee and Regional DIstrict Finance Committee with our Director of Finance Business to monitor our expenses and budget decisions.