By Lauren Brant
The Delta County School District (DCSD) is anticipating around a 10% reduction to funding for the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and impact on the economy.
During the May 28 board of education meeting, the school board discussed the finances, staff contracts, transportation and plans for the upcoming school year.
District financial impacts
Alicia Hancock, director of finance for the district, reviewed the cash projection reports with the school board. While the property tax money from various counties are coming in similar to previous years, there is a concern that if that money doesn’t come in, it will affect the district’s cash flow.
“If we don’t get that money, we still get our money from the state,” Hancock said.
However, the coronavirus’ impact on the economy will impact the school district’s funding.
DCSD Superintendent Caryn Gibson said the district is anticipating around a 10% reduction in its funding next school year.
“Delta County School District receives 75% of its funding from state share and cuts in the amount of 10% would mean a reduction of approximately $4 million to our school district,” she said.
To offset these reductions, the district will receive funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The Joint Budget Committee has not determined the school finance allocations yet.
The district will not provide salary increases to staff, so certified staff contracts will show a salary freeze, but they will be able to receive salary advancements for credit hours earned next year.
Despite the financial changes, the district remains committed to offering academic and athletic programs for students.
Plans for school in the fall
While the district continually navigates the health guidelines at the local, state and national level, Gibson is hopeful the district can offer traditional in-person instruction in the fall for all students.
“We know and understand that may not be a possibility for all,” she said. “Therefore, we understand that one-size may not fit all during these COVID times, so we are working on different learning approaches to accommodate some students.”
Instructional approaches the district is organizing for the fall include in-person learning with precautions, a hybrid-learning model and a distance-learning model.
During the board meeting, there was discussion about how the district might provide instruction. Board vice president Dan Burke shared information he heard another state is planning to implement prior to students arriving in August.
“I saw an interesting approach that another state is doing where if they have to go back to school that they would model, in other words practice the changes that would be in place,” Burke said. “In other words, get people to come in the school and go through possibly what you would have to do and run through that and look at things beforehand and issues that might have happened.”
The board thought the idea sounded like a good idea and would allow them to address potential issues without the sense of immediacy to keep staff and students safe.
“There will be some type of social distancing and precaution,” Gibson said. “We’re putting together a task force to work on that.”
Danielle Barnard, a language arts teacher at Delta Middle School, visited with the board about contracts and concerns among teachers about what learning will look like in the fall.
With COVID-19 preventing in-person learning this past spring, Barnard said, staff were unable to conduct benchmark testing, so she could not provide updated information to the board. Barnard also visited with Gibson prior to the meeting about professional development in the fall, which will likely be held through a hybrid or distance platform.
The school board asked if teachers would be ready for hybrid or distance professional development and Barnard said, “I think teachers would adjust with that hybrid-type thing.”
Detailed information about fall instruction will be communicated at a later date.
“We will be doing extensive planning and creating a working group to advise and accommodate learning for the different approaches,” Gibson said. “We will wait to communicate any definitive plans until we have worked through the multiple approaches and have clear guidance from our health agency partners.”
Aside from preparing plans for instruction in the fall, DCSD personnel are developing plans in partnership with the Delta County Health Department for fall sports. Some of the district’s athletic facilities are open to restricted numbers under the current Delta County variance granted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) is working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a plan for school districts to reopen schools in the fall. The CDE’s “Framework and Toolkit” will provide guidelines and ideas as schools navigate management of COVID-19 protocols. The toolkit will be a working document that will be continuously updated to reflect new public health orders.
Katy Anthes, a Colorado Education Commissioner released a statement about the importance of in-person learning for students.
“Our first and foremost concern is the health and safety of students and staff,” Anthes said. “I’m incredibly grateful to our teachers for their tremendous work transforming their lessons for remote instruction, but I think we can all agree that in-person learning at schools provides an important structure for our children, and it also supports working parents in their need to return to their jobs.”