Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fiscal Impact of COVID Remains Unknown

We are still in the infancy of the 2020-2021 school year so it is pure conjecture to estimate the fiscal impact the district will encumber as a result of COVID-19. Yet, suffice to say our costs will likely far exceed those monies that have been distributed as part of the CARES Act. At the onset of the pandemic, Congress acted quickly to infuse funds into the economy [and schools] to combat the virus. Unfortunately a second round of aid languishes, likely until after the election. 

To date, Hudson has received $59,156 in allocations. The ESSER fund was the original, and continues to be the largest sum received to date. This allocation was used for the purchase of mitigation equipment, additional cleaning supplies, PPE, and licensing software for remote conferencing (think Zoom). We also hired an additional custodian to work the day shift with primary responsibilities including restrooms, common spaces and other high traffic (touch areas) during the school day. It is also worth mentioning the hiring of a bus driver to help balance load size on the north end of the district. Needless to say, the sum of these expenses will exceed the allocations from both the ESSER and the STATE funds. That is before taking into account other already known expenses, which includes additional computers for the lower elementary in the event we have to implement our remote learning plan and the curriculum software that we are using with students participating in voluntary offsite learning. 

In recent days, the GEER money has become available to districts and is designed primarily to address technology infrastructure and connectivity in our district. If you remember over the summer when we conducted a technology survey to see if you had internet at home, this is why we were asking those questions. Our plan is to purchase hotspots for families that currently don't have internet available in the home. The algorithm we are using to determine eligibility mirrors our free and reduced lunch percentages. If you would like access to one of these hotspots, please contact us via email with the subject line 'hotspot'. We are purchasing these devices on demand and 'as needed' so it may take a few days to get you the needed access.

Considering that the knowns described above have or will exhaust the allocations that have already been made available to us, we also have to consider the unknowns. The big one that we are going to have a difficult time getting our arms around is substitute costs. Substitute costs consider not only the cost of the substitute or temporary employee's wages, but also the cost of the permanent employee. In the majority of cases the permanent employee is eligible for paid time off. Even if they had exhausted the paid time off allocated by the district as a benefit of employment, the CARES act grants employees an additional 10 days of paid leave. There was no revenue provided as part of the Act to offset this added expense. 

Luckily we have the cash reserves on hand to weather the storm. With the completion of our certified annual report last week, our subsequent report of fiscal health has been published on the district website. What the report finds is that our cash reserve remains full, tax rates are on the decline, and our unspent balance continues to rise. This puts the district in a good position in light of unpredictable funding from the state, and particularly since we will be in a continued position to manage unbudgeted expenditures that have come about as a result of COVID-19.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

We Can't Let Our Guard Down

Managing the district response to COVID-19 and attention to our mitigation and safety plan has been an all consuming and number one priority above all else so far this school year. It takes constant reminders and a relentless commitment to procedures and protocols in order to keep everyone safe and healthy; and likewise our buildings open. If we let our guard down it could force us to close which is something that no one wants.

The decisions the district makes are executed with the guidance and at the direction of the health department following the protocols that have been articulated by the Iowa Department of Public Health. The health office here in our district is communicating with Black Hawk County daily about specific scenarios, and county superintendents have a standing meeting every Monday afternoon at 4:00 to discuss specific countywide metrics and to answer questions that we have in local school districts. 

If a student is at school and begins to present with symptoms that are outlined in our plan, they, along with all siblings in the household must be isolated from school and are encouraged to seek an evaluation by a health care provider. Unfortunately, if they [you] don't seek health care we have to treat the symptoms and subsequent absence as if it were a positive case. Even if the symptoms subside the following day. This is why it is so important to seek an evaluation. If a COVID test is completed and comes back negative, the student and siblings can return to school as soon as their symptoms improve and they have been fever free for 24 hours. 

So again, absent an alternative diagnosis with no health evaluation we required to treat it as if it were a positive case. This is what that means. The child who had symptoms has to stay home at least ten days since the symptoms began, they have been fever free for at least 24 hours, and all other symptoms have improved. Anyone else in the household has to stay at home in quarantine for 14 days since their last contact with the symptomatic individual. 

At the same time, we have a few students who have become quite savvy at figuring out the best way to get a one way ticket home: report that they are having two or more low risk symptoms. In this case, not only have they earned themselves a trip home, they very probably have done the same for their brothers or sisters. When this happens, it kicks in the protocols described in the paragraphs above. Of course the inverse is also true: we may very well have students who are masking symptoms (pun intended) with the goal of being able to stay in school. We can't have that either. Both are of course problematic and makes it difficult to manage an ever changing data set and the variables that go along with it. 

As you can probably imagine, this is a very challenging and complex issue to navigate. If you have questions about our protocols, please feel free to reach out. But please remember, we are following the guidance and direction of the health department. All we really want to do is keep our buildings open and keep people from getting sick.