Schools discuss fall operations, budget cuts, sports

Posted at 4:30 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 15:41:33-04

BOISE — Multiple school districts are working to see how to successfully continue education for their students, given all of the unknowns surrounding COVID-19 procedures.

Boise School District says for their projections, they're thinking about three different scenarios which could affect the school in the fall; first, if individual students become infected, second if a specific school becomes a hot spot, or third if they brace for a complete lockdown once again.

Considering those scenarios, their best case solution to continue education is an online school of some sort.

"I use that term really, really specifically, what we've been in this year is not an online school; it's been a bandaid, it's been what we have been able to put together in literally turning on a dime given the pandemic and where we were," said superintendent Coby Dennis,

"so we worked really hard to provide meaningful lessons this year, to families but not necessarily content specific, grade-level specific learning towards educational standards."

Kuna School District surveyed parents to see how they feel about reopening in the fall. 70% say they want school to pick up in person, but the pandemic raises questions about how many kids will actually return for it.

"30% our families have communicated they're not sure what they're going to do next year or they know they're not going to have their kids return to school business as usual," said Kuna Superintendent Wendy Johnson,

"so we've asked those families what would what you like to see, so there's everything from online, which is what we're doing now, and probably even better."

Budget restraints also shape future school plans. Governor little wants a 1% general fund holdback for this year, and schools prepare for another potential 5% cut in July, which in part affects public schools.

"For the Boise School District that's about $8.5 to 9 million that we're having to deal within the next 14 months," said Dennis,

"in addition to that, we aren't even sure or convinced of how many people will actually return to school, how many kids will return to school in the fall."

Kuna says that translates to about $1.6 million for their district. Already this spring, Kuna furloughed some staff, a decision which Johnson says helps keep them afloat despite the cuts.

"We were able to save about $700,000 that will offset those budget cuts in the coming year, so you know our teachers really are, and our staff really are heroes," said Johnson.

Caldwell School District weighs those financial decisions but says technology remains at the top of the list for their budget.

"The tech budget at the state level has been reduced, so we're all looking at the how does with the federal help, can we use some of that to help with the technology needs, that our students will need," said Superintendent Shalene French, "if we have to go stay at home do we have connectivity for our students."

It's a tough budgeting cycle this year, according to Dennis, considering the unknowns. The pandemic has highlighted the need for teachers, but the districts debate whether moving from a brick and mortar environment to a virtual one is more cost-efficient.

"I think that by doing this online school and we're thinking about it in the context of a school in a building not just we're going to add to our teachers' plate, it allows us to deal with the staffing and deal with the budget reductions that we're going to have without cutting people and them losing their jobs," said Dennis.

The three superintendents share their districts plan to keep school five days a week, unlike Middleton School District, which recently announced their transition to a 4-day week.

All three expressed they are looking into blended models, of online and in person.

"We had a very wise teacher say it's very different to give directions online and to instruct online," said French.

When it comes to sports and extracurriculars, the districts are a part of the Southern Idaho conference, and they're working together to figure out how to have athletic camps, tournaments, and sports in the summer and fall. So far, districts say like everything else, it will be a rollout plan to get things back to capacity.