That meeting included Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy, School Board CFO Mike Burke, and several School Board members.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously had a huge impact on schooling since last year, as remote learning options expanded to help stop students and teachers from congregating in large numbers. That upped costs to the county to help provide laptops to students and make the overall system work. But there were plenty of other costs as well.
Burke said the expected cost due to the pandemic is around $45 million.
That number includes things like cleaning, PPE and creating additional internet hot spots, but does not include the cost for laptops. The $45 million price tag is about $10 million more than the county received under COVID relief legislation, according to Burke.
Revenues are also down from students not being on campus. Fewer students are paying for the school food service program and after school programs. Officials also echoed concerns from many parents that students are falling behind the normal learning pace.
“It’s not just a question of getting our schools back to normal,” Burke told lawmakers. “We have to get back to normal and then go 20 extra yards or more to try to catch the students back up and be reactive to their social and emotional needs as well.”
Fennoy also urged lawmakers not to tie funding and other decisions to standardized test results given the hurdles students have faced over the last year.
“We understand that the exams must and should be given to students to assist with progress monitoring efforts,” Fennoy said. “But the added pressure of tying scores to promotion and retention decisions — in addition to teacher evaluations — puts a heavy burden on our students and school-based staff.”
Burke highlighted specific asks for the members of the Palm Beach delegation. Those included increasing the base student allocation by $100 or more and increasing veteran teacher salary to “help mitigate salary compression” caused by the new starting salary bump.
Burke also discussed the required local effort (RLE), or the local property tax money which helps fund education. “We’d like to consider just allowing the RLE to stay the same rate and grow with any property value increase we get next year,” Burke stressed.
Though the district has already faced significant impact, officials weren’t just looking backward Thursday. Burke argued that remote learning options may be needed for the 2021-22 school year as well.
“We’re hopeful the vaccine is widely distributed and next year is a normal school year. But there’s a chance that we could still have a portion of our kids that want to stay home and learn online,” Burke explained.
“This year, a part of the flexibility that was granted to us allowed us to still get full funding even if those kids were in virtual education, learning from home. And I’d like to see that continued for at least another year.”
The district could lose 20% of funding for those students if that policy isn’t extended, Burke said.