While the early closure of school buildings due to COVID-19 could save some money, social distancing and other safety requirements could take a bite out of the fiscal 2021 school budget, too.
Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak discussed the impact of a 1/12 budget, as was required as of June 1. If a budget is not in place by July1, Commissioner of Edcation Jeffrey C. Riley will impose that 1/12 budget on the district.
Because the town meetings have been rescheduled due to coronavirus concerns, the month of July will begin with a 1/12 budget, Szymaniak said.
Normally, 1/12 budgets — forced by local financial considerations — are few and far between, according to Szymaniak.
“However, this year, 150 [regional] school districts won’t have a budget by next Monday because virtually no town meetings have taken place,” he said. “I will submit [the 1/12 budget] to the School Committee when we submit it to DESE.”
Szymaniak also plans to submit a letter to the commissioner outlining the steps taken to approve a budget and explaining the process to determine an assessment methodology and the compromise amendment under consideration.
If the commissioner approves the amendment and the budget fails the amendment to the agreement would be the way Riley would assess a fiscal 2021 budget. He also must approve any amendment.
Because the School Committee put forth a budget last month, it gives an option the district can present to the commissioner concerning what has been done, Assistant Superintendent George Ferro said.
Szymaniak said his understanding is that a 1/12 budget will be based on fiscal 2020 numbers for all districts because it would be confusing to do something for one district and not the others.
For W-H, that figure is $52,425,738 and the current budget proposed for fiscal 2021 is $55,040,238 — which would require a cut of $2.6 million to make salary for a presumed Aug. 24 date for next year’s classes.
Based on an average teaching salary of $65,000, Szymaniak said staff cuts would require eight reading specialists district-wide ($550,000), five teachers at Hanson Middle School ($325,000), three teachers at Conley Elementary ($195,000), three teachers at Indian Head ($195,000), two teachers at Duval ($130,000), two facilities positions ($120,000), five curriculum directors at the high school would go back into the high school but lost their stipends ($90,000), they are also looking at librarians at the high school and Hanson Middle School ($130,000) as well as four library paraprofessionals ($80,000), staff cuts to the high school after school program for about $60,000, five high school positions ($320,000), the district is projecting no freshman athletics all year next year ($70,000) and still don’t know if there will be any fall sports offered. The remaining $350,000 will be cut from supplies and a non-union administrator. The cuts come to about 39 staff cuts.
“This is a rough estimate, as we don’t know what the commissioner is going to give us for a budget, but we have to notify our teaching staff of the potential cuts by May 31,” Szymaniak said.
“It’s devastation,” said School Committee member Fred Small, asking if unemployment costs were included or if those cuts would be deeper.
Szymaniak said it depends on who the district can bring back. Small also asked about other ideas such as closing on Fridays and adding a little time onto other days to try saving money on transportation and facilities costs.
But such out-of-the-box changes also hinge on the cost of the PPE and devices such a temporal thermometers the district will have to buy — or the potential for split sessions due to coronavirus. Committee member Robert O’Brien Jr., deputy fire chief in Hanson, asked Ferro to call him the following day as he felt that he and Whitman Fire might be able to work with MEMA and FEMA to aid with PPE purchases.
“[Riley] said nurses will look like ER nurses with the gear that they’re going to have to have — the face shields, the booties, the full nine yards — and that’s going to have to be disposable,” Szymaniak said, noting that equipment and training involved in remote learning requirements.
“The commissioner has been very quiet on what a bus may look like next year, too — I’ve heard numbers of eight to 10 kids on a bus to maybe 15, with glass shields up — I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” he added. “Some of our elementary and middle school buses are packed.”
Committee member Mike Jones asked how decisions on teacher cuts were made. Szymaniak said he looked at class size and put everyone between 25 and 30 students. Whitman Middle was already at that level for class size.
Committee member Dan Cullity asked what would happen if the district was unable to obtain enough PPE. Ferro said they were working on purchasing and stockpiling them.
Szymaniak said special education is also a concern as the stress of dealing with the pandemic and regression from lack of a school environment have and effect on students.
“I think the message should be clear to anybody, that we don’t have a pocket of money sitting around,” Small said.
Excess and deficiency as well as circuit-breaker funds have already been visited, he noted and the need for one-use PPE will require medical waste disposal protocols, which will also cost money. Interim Business Manager John Tuffy said he is also not certain how much circuit-breaker money the district will see.
He has heard rumors of cuts of between 10 and 20 percent.
“I’m concerned that, over the next six months, we’re going to be not with quite a few additional expenses that we’ve never seen before and we’re going to have to live through,” Szymaniak said.
He said there is also no guidance on potential exposure of the school population if a student comes to school with a fever.
Both middle schools will hold a car parade for eighth-graders on the morning of Friday, June 12. ChromeBook return will take place June 11 and 12.
High school underclassmen will be permitted to pick up their belongings from Monday, June 8 to Friday, June 12.
College students are helping maintenance staff clean buildings for closure June 15 as S.J. Services continues to be on sabbatical from the contract with the district after a family member of an employee tested positive for coronavirus. The cleaning is also intended to prepare the building in the event Gov. Charlie Baker approves in-building summer school and extended-year programs for special ed students.
Szymaniak said S. J. is not likely to return to working in school buildings until July 1.