The ongoing coronavirus pandemic will have lingering effects on local schools, from $32 million in spending cuts and possible furloughs, to being prepared for fall instruction to be either in classrooms or online.
“I lead with hope, but that optimism is tempered with reality and the importance of (planning),” CCSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower said. “We are hoping and preparing for in-person school to begin in August, as well as envisioning what we may need to do if it cannot.”
The opening options in August include a traditional start or more Digital Learning Days, according to Barbara Jacoby, CCSD chief communications officer.
“While it requires more time and effort by staff to plan for a traditional start and also prepare for a possible Digital Learning Days start, we think it’s vitally important to be ready for either option,” Jacoby said. “As we looked to guidance from state leaders and public health officials in making the decision to close school in March, we will continue to listen to their input in regard to re-opening.”
Details of the operating budget for next fiscal year, beginning July 1, were sent to parents this month in an effort to maintain transparency.
“We will continue to communicate with parents over the summer break and will let them know of any decisions about the start of school as soon as they are made,” Jacoby said.
Since CCSD’s day-to-day operating budget is largely funded by the state and local property tax revenue, system leadership is preparing for possible cuts of 14% — a loss of approximately $32 million in state revenue for CCSD.
“For perspective, it costs approximately $1.5 million to run our school district each day,” Hightower said. “The bulk of our operating budget, 87%, is spent on salaries and benefits for our employees, and nearly all of our employees directly serve students as teachers, bus drivers, school nutrition workers, counselors, nurses and school administrators.”
In March, the superintendent’s senior staff cut budgets by 5% and by implementing cost avoidance measures postponed purchases and froze new central office hiring.
“The state is exploring a cut nearly three times that total. I’ve charged (staff) with making further reductions,” Hightower said. “Our administrative costs already are ranked among the lowest in the state, so these will be painful cuts, which I hope, along with some small closure-related cost-avoidances like bus fuel, will help us get much closer to the necessary balanced budget.”
Further reductions include putting off initiatives, canceling professional development and further limiting hiring for next year.
“But to reach $32 million in operational cuts, I anticipate we will most likely have to implement furlough days. It’s just too great a gap to cover without impacting our biggest line item: our people,” Hightower said.
CCSD will hold a virtual school board meeting May 21, where the superintendent will give a presentation with more information on the budget.
“The state Legislature will re-convene in June and we hope they will take a similar hard look at their budget, including the $138.3 million in diverted general fund revenue and tax credits that encourage increased enrollment in private schools, before deeply cutting public education,” Hightower said.
The district’s budget and other financial records are posted on the Open CCSD webpage.