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Safety measures could have significant impact on school budget

By Staff | Jul 21, 2020

Some of the safety measures that have been discussed in reopening the school district could have a significant impact on the district’s budget.

A Zoom workshop meeting was held on July 15 to share information about the budget in regards to the start of this school year, which included staffing, personal protective measures, equipment and response measures.

Chief Finance Officer Ami Desamours said they have to make sure they are in line and ready for the reopening of schools, especially with kids coming back into the physical building, which has a significant impact on the budget.

As far as staffing, the district has to look at how education is going to be provided to each student, whether virtual, Lee Home Connect, or attending classes in a physical building. Depending on circumstances that happen in the classroom, or at a location, it could have significant impact on the budget.

Desamours said, for example, what happens if personnel can not work for a period of time because a location shuts down? In addition, they have to account for transportation and feeding the students on campus.

“All those questions are to be determined as we get additional information from parents and community and solidify that reopening plan,” she said. “We have to react to the budget to staffing at each location and the demand of the particular mode of education.”

The question regarding what would happen if a teacher had to quarantine also was addressed. Although no decision was made concerning the topic, Desamours said they are working with the unions to make sure they are involved.

Chief Human Resource Officer Angela Pruitt said they are working on a plan that could allow teachers to work virtually if they have to quarantine.

She said they also are working on a plan for guest teachers and training those guest teachers with the unions. They are also in discussion with Lee Virtual School Principal Al Shilling for teacher training.

“We will be sending out an anonymous survey to instructional staff and ask what are the barriers for them making the decision,” she said, adding that the survey will help with flexibility, as well as matching it with parental issues.

As far as personal protection measures, masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing signs could cost the district between $10 million and $15 million for the year for students and staff.

“Some of those costs could be reinforced through FEMA,” Desamours said. “Many locations in every state will ask for help. The funding is yet to be seen or known. We have to plan in our budget as though this is our expense and will be happening. It will have a significant impact.”

Equipment such as ChromeBooks and hot spots could also be an added expense for students who take the virtual route.

The response measures could also add up when positive COVID-19 cases present on campuses. Desamours said the deep cleaning and fogging to take place at the location could cost between $5,000 to $6,000.

“That cost could be significant to the budget depending on how many circumstances we have,” she said.

The meeting also touched upon other budget measures.

Desamours said this is a very different budget year and they are still working on putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Business Services Director Kelly Letcher said Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state budget, which they had been waiting for some time. She said the actual signing had little to no affect on the Florida Education Finance Program.

Some of the highlights of the state budget includes the teacher salary increase to $47,500 and the Family Empowerment Scholarships increased from 18,000 to 29,000 scholarships.

In terms of student projections, Letcher said there has been no changes based on COVID-19 and everyone will be held harmless.

The district expects reductions to come in after the November elections, resulting in the need to retain as much flexibility as possible.

The governor’s budget vetoed $1 billion, which includes the School Recognition and Lottery, with a reduction of $3,720,117. Although it is a reduction, she said it does not affect every day, but rather affects the budget as they plan for staff.

The Administrators Professional Development, which is the district’s Instructional Leadership and Faculty Development Grant was vetoed. The presentation also highlighted that the Guardian Program was also vetoed. The revert/reappropriation is $41,579,963.

Desamours said a recent webinar provided a more realistic scenario of where the shortfalls could be.

According to the district, without the governor’s vetoes, but estimating a continued shortfall of state general revenue, through June 30, there would still be approximately $493.7 million in unappropriated general revenue.

“In a realistic scenario, if we are looking at revenues continuing to fall onto this fiscal year, state generated revenue shortfall could be reduced as much as $7.8 billion. When you compare that to the amount of vetoes the governor did at a billion dollars, you see there is a big difference between the budget adjustments has been made and possible shortfalls,” Desamours said. “As shortfalls continue to grow, we can expect the state move to reduce some reserves, but would not cover the whole estimated general revenue shortfall.”

She said she does expect a special session sometime in the middle of the year to address the budget, with possible mid year budget cuts.

Letcher said the preliminary numbers for the tax roll increased at the first conference report from $95.6 million to $96.5 million. She said they will receive some additional money in discretionary millage of $653,810 and about $1.3 million for capital outlay mileage.

Business Services Coordinator Sarah Cox provided information about receiving seven separate awards through the CARES Act, in the amount of $26,314,594.40.

One of the areas that received discussion was the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, $21,837,924.49 in total allocation. Out of that number, $3.3 million has to be shared with charter and private schools. The funds are available through Sept. 30.

This money will be used to support all schools.

Cox said they recognized the learning gaps that have taken place and wanted to allocate the money across the district for all schools to address that gap.

“This money was not split up by school. The traditional public schools did not develop a sliding scale, or allocation to go to a specific school,” she explained.

Desamours said the money was not allocated directly to the schools. It is not a recurring allocation, but rather one grant for the next two years.

“It lets us develop, if we can, some district wide initiatives that could be used to help all students across the district and areas to recover some of the learning gaps that has happened during COVID,” she said, adding that they are concentrating on students with lower performance.

Desamours said they have to remain flexible with the needs across the district given their circumstances. They do not know the type of issues that will surface when kids return back to school.

“We are trying to make sure to create that flexibility within that budget to address those when they come up,” she said, adding hat the more they can conserve resources the better.

The sales tax revenue FY20 Budget is $83,842,575. The March 2020 revised projection due to COVID-19 brought that number down to $75,075,323. As of July, 2019 FY20 revenue to date was $72,289,869.

Cox said they are about $3 million away from meeting that goal. She said they will have additional revenue to be received late July and early August.

Desamours said the next steps include completing the CARES Act grant applications. They also have to finalize the reopening plan and how those CARE Plan initiatives lead into the schools.

In addition, the district has to finalize the budget reductions in order to accommodate protective measures and cleaning the schools.

“We need to make sure to clear space in the budget to accomplish that,” she said.

The tentative budget hearing will be held on July 29, and the final budget hearing is scheduled for Sept. 9.

“There could be significant changes between the tentative and final budget. We should be ready to expect anything on any given movement on any given day,” Desamours said.