Local school districts forced to be creative with high school graduations in recent days are now working on reopening plans while awaiting guidance from the state.
“Our Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona has a plan he’s circulating among superintendents, teachers and parents,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday during a stop in Waterbury. “He’s going to roll out the first draft of that plan on Thursday.”
The governor’s office didn’t release any details except there will be an announcement for reporters at 11 a.m. today, a spokesman said.
Some education officials have pointed to the guidance issued by the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group on summer schools for insight.
According to the advisory group, social distancing measures would mean drastically fewer students on more buses, smaller class sizes and more health and education staff. Schools would also need to disinfect more often. Questions remain over whether they must provide masks.
School and municipal officials know the upcoming protocols will be costly.
As schools reopen it will cost the average school district about $1.8 million to make social distancing possible, according to an estimate published by the School Superintendents Association and the Association of School Business Officials International. The expense will strain budgets that are bracing for cuts due to the economic downturn.
“You have a significant increase in costs for school districts at a time when school districts are going to have less money. Why? Because you see all of the states’ budgets are going to be decimated,” Ben Domenech, executive director of the superintendent’s association, told the Associated Press. “How is that going to play out?”
Southington Superintendent of Schools Timothy Connellan recently told the town’s Board of Finance that some of the rules are “untenable,” specifically referencing the summer school transportation rules, according to a recent Record-Journal article. He does not believe transportation vendors have the number of buses needed nor will the district be able to employ enough bus monitors to comply with the rules.
“The costs attached to these, if any come true, will be significant,” Connellan said. “If you look at those as rules, they are so restrictive. If the reopening of school for the regular school year looks anything like that, it's going to be very difficult.”
Southington’s Board of Finance voted to approve the Board of Education's request to establish a non-lapsing fund account, whose balance is not to exceed 2% of the board's overall budget, to help with reopening costs.
The Meriden City Council authorized a similar fund. The city is eligible to receive up to $2.38 million in funding from the federal CARES Act to pay for pandemic-related costs next school year.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni told the Record-Journal the money will “support increased costs in operating models, health and safety measures, and programmatic changes.” He added the “district needs to wait and see what guidance it gets from the state Department of Public Health, local health officials, and Department of Education before making any firm plans” on how to spend the funds.
The state Department of Education received a total of $111 million through the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The money going to schools is from approximately $13.2 billion set aside in an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund under the act.
Meriden’s $2.38 million is among the highest in the state. Wallingford and Southington received $469,972 and $418,982 respectively, while Cheshire received $99,144.