GCS leaders set to discuss new school budgetBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / April 30, 2020
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While the Guilford County School Board is preparing to vote on a new budget, district leaders say they are uncertain what that will look like in the wake of COVID-19.
Guilford County School leaders are set to receive public comment and discuss the budget for the 2020-2021 school year on April 30.
GCS announced on April 20 that schools will remain closed for the rest of the year, but remote learning will continue through the end of the school year, which is June 5 for most schools.
Superintendent Sharon Contreras presented budget recommendations for 2020-2021 to the school board on April 22 that included new strategies to prevent learning loss, increase student access to technology and connectivity, add new diagnostic tools to help teachers tailor instruction more effectively, and provide more academic support for struggling students.
Since then, district leaders have cut $21 million out of the budget recommendations but this money will be replaced because the district is expected to get approximately $21 million in K-12 Emergency Relief Funds. Those funds will go towards support and resources for recovering lost learning time.
“The learning loss of the 2019-2020 school year will be the single greatest challenge educators across the country will face in the coming months and years,” said Contreras. “We must dedicate resources now to address the impact this loss is having on our students, particularly the most vulnerable.”
Angie Henry, GCS Chief Financial Officer said an uncertainty about the decrease in resources and federal stimulus money led district leaders to reassess the budget. She said the district will need to request more funds from the county to cover costs for things like additional custodians, school cleaning that follows CDC guidelines, nurses for every school, and technology needed to continue to remote learning. The money would also be used for academic assessments for every student.
“We’re working on identifying what it needs to look like to determine costs,” said Henry who estimated that GCS currently employs about 45 nurses that cover all 117 schools.
Henry said that GCS used about $2.4 million diverted from reserve funds and summer camps this year to provide COVID-19 support for families such as the daily Grab-n-Go meal sites and equipping students with laptops for remote learning.
Henry noted that district leaders are also discussing how to reopen schools. One option is split schedule days where half the student body attends on certain days and the other half attends the other days. They also discussed extending the school day or school year. The district also estimates that 1.8 million masks would be needed to equip each student and staff member with one every day.
“It’s not a one size fits all model from the state. Most schools are at capacity and we don’t have the space to ensure that every student is six feet apart,” said Henry.
Sup. Contreras, a member of the Council of Great City Schools’ executive committee, also joined more than 50 other large urban public-school districts in a plea to congressional leadership to approve funding for local school systems in the next coronavirus supplemental appropriations bill.
“The economic impact on education is projected to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in this country,” said Contreras. “We simply cannot do this alone, which is why I did not hesitate to sign this letter. We must do everything in our power to ensure all students continue to receive a fair and equitable education in Guilford County and throughout our nation.”
The letter requests support of an additional federal allocation of $175 billion in educational stabilization funds distributed to the local level through the Title I formula. The Council of Great City Schools is also urging Congress to provide an additional $13 billion for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), $12 billion in additional Title I program funding and $2 billion for E-Rate and emergency infrastructure funds that include public schools.
Of the district’s total proposed $842.6 million budget for 2020-2021, 29 percent of the budget comes from the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. Included in next year’s budget recommendation is a request of $5.7 million from the Board of County Commissioners to address mandatory salary and benefit cost increases for GCS personnel and anticipated growth in charter school enrollment.
The proposal to the County Commissioners also includes an additional request of $1.6 million to sustain school bus driver salary increases in 2020-2021 provided by the county commissioners earlier this school year. Half of this request was funded by the Board of County Commissioners in January 2020. Additionally, the budget also included $20 million in capital outlay to address deferred maintenance.
The board is scheduled to vote on the budget at its May 12 meeting. Per state law, the school board must submit its budget recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) by May 15.
The board is asking that people email their comments on the budget to the board prior to 4 p.m. Thursday to firstname.lastname@example.org with, “budget hearing, 4-30-2020” in the subject line.