After discussing during a July 1 study session how best to reopen schools in the fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Edmonds School Board Tuesday night agreed with a staff recommendation to pursue a hybrid learning model that will split students into two groups and divide their time between in-person and remote teaching.
For the past several weeks, district leaders have been working with staff, families and community stakeholders to develop a learning model that prioritizes safety for everyone. At last week’s study session, the school board discussed three proposals to combine in-person teaching and remote learning.
At the board’s July 7 business meeting, board members agreed with a district staff-recommended model that will divide students into two groups, with Group A students attending in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and being taught remotely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, Group B will learn remotely on Monday through Wednesday and attend classes in person on Thursday and Friday.
While the district is working to provide a safe learning environment, Superintendent Gustavo Balderas admitted there is “no perfect schedule” and there will be impacts on students, families and staff.
“Schools will look different this fall,” he said. “From cohorting kids to possibly having to limit parent volunteers because of the restrictions. This is not what schooling should look like, but this is something we’re being forced to undertake under the current circumstances.”
The model also allows families to choose to participate in online-only learning, placing those students in a third group. Additionally, district staff is looking into an extended four-day schedule for preschool through first grade students that would create a fourth group.
Wednesdays will be a remote learning day for most students, allowing for teacher planning and professional development as well as providing intervention and recovery learning services for students. The day will also be used to do “deep cleaning” in buildings between student cohorts.
Under the model, special education services will be determined by district staff and individualized education program (IEP) teams working on a case-by-case basis. District staff has designated instructional work groups to develop additional opportunities for in-person instruction and services for special education students. Proposed ideas include additional in-person services for students who receive a majority of their instruction in a special education setting.
The district will also continue developing plans for continuous learning in the event that schools are ordered to close by state or local health departments, said Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen.
“We need to continually be ready to go all the way back,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab agreed with Superintendent Balderas that there is no perfect model for returning to teaching, but added that the recommended model allows the district to operate more efficiently.
“Logistically, it makes things work better,” he said.
During the discussion, Board President Deborah Kilgore asked if district staff have considered reopening unused school buildings like those at the former Alderwood Middle and Woodway High.
According to Balderas, the district may use those sites to provide child care, depending on the condition of the building.
Also regarding child care, Schwab added that the district is continuing to develop plans for families that will need services on days students are not in classes. As for athletics, Schwab said the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) is working on different scenarios to determine the future of school sports.
When dividing students into groups, Director Nancy Katims suggested using addresses instead of last names. After reviewing plans in other districts, Katims said it could be beneficial for siblings with different last names who live in the same home. She added that families in the same neighborhoods could offer each other support. Katims also suggested that the district start gathering information on parents who plan to use online-only learning.
“For one reason, (it will) keep them from going off to virtual academies (outside the district), so they’ll know we’ll be serving them and to be able to get numbers,” she said.
In other business, the board held a public hearing regarding the proposed 2020-21 district budget. The budget estimates revenues, expenditures, and fund balances for each fund.
Prior to the hearing, district Finance Director Lydia Sellie presented the budget to the board and reviewed significant highlights. She began with an update on projected student enrollment, which was reported to be 157 students over district levels. However, she added that was before the COVID-19 pandemic and that number is subject to change.
According to the budget, district revenues were projected to be at $353,827,000. Under expenditures, Sellie said the district anticipates receiving $2.3 million in CARES Act funds to help the district cover the cost of COVID-related financial impacts. In response to the pandemic, district expenditures included personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, child care for health care workers and first responders, and hot spots for students without internet access.
Also under revenues, estimated levy collections will be increasing and the district anticipates getting just under $54.3 million. While voters in 2018 approved a $66.5 million technology levy, that amount exceeds what districts are allowed to collect under the state formula used to calculate levy collections.
Earlier this year, district staff discussed financial impacts the pandemic could have on the property tax collection and anticipated that it would not receive all of the levied funds. As a result of COVID-related job loss and other impacts, Sellie said the district has not yet collected all of the levy funds from the 2019-20 school year. However, she said the district does not plan to include uncollected property taxes from the last school year in the proposed budget, since property tax collections continue to come in at a lower trajectory than previous years.
“In the last recession it took about three years before all of our collections came in, but we will eventually recover all of that funding,” she said.
Next year’s budget will also include an additional state-funded professional development day for certified instructional staff, which will increase revenues by $600,000.
The budget anticipates district expenditures for next school year to be at $357,727,000. In accordance with collective bargaining agreements that have been (or are expected to be) reached, Sellie said the district anticipates spending an additional $3.1 million on salaries and benefits.
The district is also providing more staffing support for overcrowded elementary schools, including Sherwood, Westgate and Oak Heights. Officials won’t know how much additional staff will be needed until actual enrollment for the new year is determined, Sellie said.
The district anticipates receiving $25,138,000 from the state for materials, supplies and operating costs (MSOCS), which Sellie said covers district expenses not related to staff compensation or benefits. According to the budget, MSOCS expenditures were calculated at $22,934,908. Since the state MSOCS funding will exceed the district’s proposed expenditures, the district is required to propose how it will spend the difference.
“The difference will be used for unfunded salaries because competitive salaries are used to attract and retain qualified staff to improve student achievement,” Sellie said.
The budget also shows the district ending 2020 with a total fund balance of $22.5 million with an unassigned fund balance of just under $11 million, which translates to 3.3% of current year’s expected expenditures.
For 2021, Sellie said the district anticipates a declining unassigned fund balance of $6.95 million, or 2.03% of estimated expenditures. That is less than district policy, which requires the budget to show a 4% unassigned fund balance.
“At this time, Dr. Balderas and I are studying our budget and looking at ways we can improve our ending fund balance for next year,” she said.
In response, Director Ann McMurray said she was uncomfortable with such a low undesignated fund percentage.
“That’s shaving too much off,” she said.
The district will receive $24 million in levied funds from its 2014 construction bond. This will be the last year the district receives funds from the 2014 bond.
While the district failed to pass its 2020 $600 million construction bond, voters approved a $96 million replacement technology/capital levy. The levy will fund student laptops and Chromebooks for teachers and students, instructional equipment, audio/visual equipment and tech support. The levy will also allow for some improved physical security measures, school building technology and some field, track and gym improvements.
The debt service fund pays principal and interest on debt (bonds) that were issued in previous years. The debt service fund budget for 2020-21 is $59,467,600 and the fund levy is $59.5 million for 2021.
District staff is requesting $2.2 million to purchase an additional 18 buses — eight large buses and 10 small ones.
For the associated student body fund, the district estimated a budget of $3,293,415. Sellie said the district looked at the 2019-20 year for guidance since staff are still uncertain about the upcoming year and how students plan to raise funds for activities.
“If they don’t achieve as many avenues as in previous years they won’t be doing as many activities,” she said.
Sellie opened the public hearing for the budget by reading a submitted comment from Seaview Elementary School teacher Janet Foster, who asked the board not to cut teachers, support staff or classroom supplies.
“Our job is going to be so very hard to get kids back on track without having to worry about how much copying we do,” Foster stated.
Next, Sellie read a comment from Melissa Hudson, who asked if the district will have the funds to finish construction of Spruce Elementary School. In response, Sellie said the district would likely not be able to complete construction at this time since the 2020 bond did not pass.
“If for some reason we’re able to acquire funding to complete Spruce during the 20-21 fiscal year, we would come back to the board to ask for additional budget authority in the amount of the fund that we receive,” she said.
The board will continue to discuss the proposed budget before it votes on the adoption in August.
–By Cody Sexton