Edmonds School Board discusses plans for return to in-person learning this fall

Edmonds School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas provides an update on school building re-entry during the May 11 school board meeting.

With plans to return students to in-person learning starting this fall, the Edmonds School Board Monday night discussed several matters that need to be addressed before the school district brings students back to classrooms five days a week.

During the board’s regular school building re-entry briefing, Superintendent Gustavo Balderas announced plans to offer students the option to return to in-person learning five days a week for the 2021-22 school year or stay 100% remote.

“Our goal is to have as many of our kids as possible to come back to our campuses,” he said.

In a letter sent out to families, the district provided more details including plans to distribute a student intent survey to learn which students will be choosing to return and those who will be staying remote.

Earlier this week, the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for adolescents 12-15 years old. As a result, Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen said many parents have reached out asking about vaccine availability in the district.

In response, Geaslen said the district is working with the Washington State Department of Health and Seattle Visiting Nurses — who have been administering vaccines at Edmonds College — to offer vaccines to eligible students at three sites in the district.

Staff are still figuring out the logistics, but Geaslen said there may be a drive-thru option available on Wednesdays and Thursdays, similar to what has been offered at the college. Additionally, staff have helped arrange a mass vaccination site at the college on Saturday, May 15, for students 12 years and older. 

Geaslen also updated the board on a pilot project that allows students and staff experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to perform self-administered tests at school buildings. The project is a partnership with the department of health and allows anyone 4 years or older — with a parent or guardian’s permission — who may be experiencing symptoms at school, to go to the school’s COVID-19 containment room, self test and then go home and receive results in 48 hours.

The project initially began at Meadowdale High, Meadowdale Middle and Spruce Elementary schools and was expanded to other all district schools this week.

“We’re delivering kits this week,” she said. “All the school sites have received the training.”

This week the district also began offering rapid testing that is required for wrestling competitions and may soon be required for all athletic competitions in the future, Geaslen said.

In addition, during the meeting Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab gave an update on this year’s senior graduation ceremonies. The district intends to offer in-person graduation ceremonies at Edmonds Stadium, located at Edmonds-Woodway High School, for all schools. Ceremonies will be spread across four days starting June 17.

“Based on the Phase 3 guidance, we will actually be able to have all graduates together as a graduating class,” he said.

In-person attendance will be limited and staff are working on capacity in the stadium. Ceremonies will also be streamed live online.

Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner updated the board on plans to offer summer learning programs for all students. Some students in grades K-8 will be offered in-person learning, while an online option will be available for all.

Currently, K-8 schools are working to identify students who would benefit from in-person learning. Baumgartner also said that staff have determined the times for K-8 programs, which he said will start at 9 a.m. and end at 12:45 p.m. The times factor in lunch and break times.

Plans for students in grades K-6 are still being developed, but Baumgartner said they are working to have two middle school sites and several elementary schools.

“The goal is to have those out later this month and to have those rosters for summer programming — for K-8 — just after Memorial Day,” he said.

High school students will be offered a credit recovery program with options for acceleration. Some online programs will have required in-person labs. The programs will take place at Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace high schools, where students will be given the option to attend a morning session from 8-11 a.m. and an afternoon session from noon-3 p.m. Students will also have the option to stay through both sessions.

All programs will begin July 6,with the K-8 program ending Aug. 5 and the high school program ending Aug. 12. 

In other business, the board received a finance update from Finance Director Lydia Sellie. The report covered district finances reported at the end of March. Sellie began the presentation by noting that the report was for one year since the district closed school buildings to in-person learning.

According to Sellie, the district is faring better than projected with a fund balance that is $4.6 million more than staff estimated. In recent meetings, staff voiced concerns about student enrollment and the impacts fewer students would have on reduced funding from the state. However, Sellie said in spite of decreases in student enrollment this year, the district still expects more students than it had during the 2018-19 school year.

“That has been extremely helpful,” she said.

Under revenues, they are collecting on the 2020 technology levy and spending down on the proceeds from the 2014 construction bond. Funds from the recently approved 2021 capital levy will be reflected in next year’s budget, Sellie said.

Under general fund revenues, Sellie also noted the district has received more than $729,000 in commodities from the Office for the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Typically, the district falls in the $450,000 range, but due to the success of the district’s Food and Nutrition Services Department, Edmonds has been able to access unused commodities that other districts couldn’t.

Also under the general fund, Sellie said after initially instructing districts to use Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds for transportation, the Washington State Legislature decided to provide funding for transporting students to and from school.

Regarding student enrollment, Sellie said enrollment has decreased by 172 students since January, bringing the total from previous years down to 593 students. Though concerning, Sellie added that staff have projected a decrease of 600 students and are basing budget estimations on that.

“We’re managing it and hoping to get a lot more kids back when we open back up in the fall,” she said.

When asked by Director Gary Noble if staff had identified why students are dropping out, Sellie said she is looking into it and will provide more information at a later date.

In other business, the board voted to approve a proposed reduced educational program for next school year. Due to lower student enrollment, the district has identified areas for potential reductions in overall expenditures. This ensures that certificated employees who could be affected the reductions be properly notified by May 15.

The decline in student enrollment has left the district with 47.02 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees at risk of being displaced. So far, the only staffing reduction identified has been a half-time elementary school assistant principal. With 50.3 FTE vacancies to fill across the district, Director Nancy Katims said she is hopeful staff will be able to find a place for the impacted employee.

“It’s a really positive picture even though we have to pass this particular resolution for a half-time position,” she said.

The board also voted to approve revisions to the policy regarding freedom of expression. Prior to the vote, the board voted to amend the policy to include prohibiting hate speech.

The addition came after a community member brought the matter up during the meeting’s public comments.

“I think it’s a really good revision,” Katims said.

In addition, the board voted to amend policies on high school graduation requirements, sexual health education, student transfers and the district’s Financial Aid Advising Day.

Under new business, the board held a first reading (taking no action) to approve authorization to use the general contractor/construction manager project delivery method for the Educational Services Center (ESC) HVAC/Lighting/Roof Upgrade Project.

–By Cody Sexton

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