BY KARISSA MILLER
As Iredell-Statesville Schools officials continue preparations for the 2020-2021 school year, they must consider that COVID-19 will continue to disrupt student learning and enrollment.
The two biggest questions facing administrators and the school board are: (1) Will parents send their children back when schools reopen? and (2) How much revenue will the school district have to work with?
“As we don’t know every year how many students are going to show up until they show up. It makes me particularly nervous with our current situation,” Chief Finance Officer Melissa Wike told school board members on Monday evening at the Committee of the Whole meeting.
The district plans to conduct surveys so that they get a feel for the number of returning students.
Wike said that the state is projecting I-SS enrollment increase by 282 students. However, given the pandemic, there is reason to be concerned that the district will not see an increase in its Average Daily Membership (ADM), Wike said.
State funding is based on ADM, meaning the district could see a reduction in state funding if enrollment declines.
Wike said its unclear how much state funding the district will receive for the upcoming fiscal year, which leaves very little time for school officials finalize the district’s budget for the 2020-2021 school year.
I-SS has been warned of the possibility of revenue shortfalls, but Wike said she does not have specifics. At this point, districts across the state are having to make educated assumptions as they plan their budget.
The N.C. General Assembly is predicting some shortfalls due to the revenue loss brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Wike reminded the board of the state mandate that is in place for reducing elementary class sizes. The state, she said, has provided funding for extra teaching positions to account for this class size mandate.
“Our fears are even with the additional teachers that the state is providing it’s not going to be enough to get our class size where it needs to be,” Wike said.
“So, we have built into our budget some safety nets and part of this is we allocated 10 local additional funded teachers. We may not need that, but it’s there if we need to draw on it.”
Current Expense Budget Proposal
According to Wike, a lot has changed with the local budget.
The school board requested $43.3 million in funding, which represents a 12.43 percent increase.
After making that request, the school board and Iredell County commissioners had discussions about creating a Local Current Expense (LCE) funding formula.
The proposed LCE formula would also require a revised Capital Outlay funding formula. The net result was a shift of funds that previously would have been earmarked for capital projects to current expenses.
The proposed LCE formula for 2020-21 resulted in county funding of $1,940 per pupil, an increase of about $300 per student,
Based on that formula, I-SS would receive $45,394,060 in LCE funding, an increase of $6,818,810 or 17.68 percent.
New Budget Considerations
School Resource Officers
Wike explained that one change associated with the change in the funding formula is that the SROs will no longer be funded via the Safety and Security Budget created by the county. I-SS will fund all SROs using state and local funds. The estimated cost is approximately $1.1 million.
Charter School Funding Increase
The funding to charter schools will increase significantly. It is estimated to increase to $738,000 compared to the original projection of $161,500.
New School Nurses
Superintendent Brady Johnson outlined the need for nine new licensed school nurses. He said that principals are in need of additional nurses in their schools. The cost is approximately $697,000.
CARES Act and Additional Funding
I-SS will receive $3.7 million in federal CARES Act funds.
Additionally, the State has allocated funds to all districts for technology, school nutrition, summer learning and contracted mental health.
“Our State allotments are still unknown at this time,” Wike said.
Board member Bill Howell questioned whether or not the district could afford to add nine additional nurses.
Chairman Martin Page said that he believes that the hiring of nurses will be an important part of reopening the schools. He said that some of the new funds could be used for nurses.
During an earlier conversation, board member Samuel Kennington cautioned about using nonrecurring funds for recurring costs, specifically regarding personnel and other employees.
How to handle budget cuts?
The board is taking a wait-and-see approach to a potential hiring freeze. Page said the governor is expected to speak on Wednesday and the school system will get more direction from the state.
“Until we know what’s going on, we need to be very careful,” Page said.
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Alvera Lesane said, “If we freeze right now, I am concerned about our ability to find teachers for the positions that we do have to fill.”
The district has openings in hard-to-recruit areas and must remain competitive, she said.
While on the topic of teachers, board member Charles Kelly brought up another dilemma. Kelly said that based on the current information the district received from an earlier parent survey, there is potential for half of the students to come in the morning and another half to sign up to learn virtually.
This translates into a fourth- or fifth-grade teacher teaching a classroom all day and then being expected to teach the rest of their students virtually, Kelly said.
Teachers have these concerns and the board has not addressed how it will handle this issue, he added.
The district is already planning for additional use of online learning, which they are required to offer.
The board asked staff to provide more information regarding the costs and funding sources for both secondary and elementary education online learning options.
However, the biggest challenge is the transportation issue. Currently, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends only 11 to 16 students on a bus at any given time.
The district’s task force is working on a solution to this challenge.
Boen Nutting, director of communication and development, is part of the task force devoted to addressing the questions and concerns parents might have regarding the pandemic and school.
The group has a working spreadsheet with problems and solutions. Nutting mentioned that as soon as they get answers on the buses from the state and address other important topics, they will send out information to parents.