School districts across New York are grappling with when to reopen schools in person, full time. In Orange County, the superintendents from three city school districts are talking about their plans and the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on their budgets.
The three superintendents gathered recently in Newburgh as New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney spoke about funding for the districts from the American Rescue Plan. Newburgh Enlarged City School District Superintendent Dr. Roberto Padilla says his district has an Operation Reopen initiative.
“So right now, we have a number of our schools that are four days a week, and we have 100 percent virtual for those families who have opted for that, and we’re going to honor that choice through the rest of the school year while honoring the decision of families to come in person,” Padilla says. “On April 5, when we get back from spring break, every single one of our schools will be operating on a four-day schedule. We have not committed yet to a five-day, in-person model just yet, and we’re just going to take our time and do it safely. We understand that there are families that want five days of instruction but, again, this is about opening schools safely, and when we feel we’re at a point where we can offer five days, we will.”
That fifth day is remote learning. Enlarged City School District of Middletown Superintendent Richard Del Moro:
“April the 12 we will commence with five days a week in-person learning for those parents who still select to have that, right,” says Del Moro. “So funds have been reallocated from other areas of the line items of the current budget to purchase protective barriers that meet fire codes and such to really enhance the safety and welfare of the children.”
He says some of the American Rescue Plan funding will help replenish money the school had to spend, for example, on the protective barriers that he says are arriving shortly. Superintendent of the Port Jervis City School District Mike Rydell says there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach for reopening districts. His school district is one-fourth the size of Newburgh’s school district.
“We did begin purchasing the trifold barriers for the desks last summer once the state guidance came out that said that that would be permissible. It’s physical distancing or the physical barriers. The Orange County Department of Health, they reserve the right to have more restrictive requirements, so that was not an option at that time. Once that changed as the year progressed, that’s when we were able to purchase the balance of our barriers,” says Rydell. “So our K-12 program is now in four days per week, one day being a virtual day, and that we’re going to transition to five days per week in the next few weeks.”
Maloney’s 18th District includes all of Orange County. The Democrat says the American Rescue Plan will provide about $30 million to the Newburgh School District; $17 million to the Middletown district; and $7 million to the Port Jervis City School District. Newburgh’s Padilla says the pandemic certainly affects budget decisions.
“In terms of budget cuts and what have you, for the Newburgh School District, at this point, we’re not recommending any layoffs, and we’re proud of that, that is one of our strategic approaches, especially during a pandemic to not have to lay someone off,” says Padilla. “However, it does come as a consequence to other things we have to do in our district. So we are, at this point, not going to recommend filling certain positions in order to attend to some of our contractual obligations, health benefits and some of the other things that we just have no say over.”
Rydell says the federal funding will help alleviate some of the stress, and he describes some funding shifts in Port Jervis.
“That’s where, again, this funding as well as us using money that we would have used for other things, it gets shifted, the barriers being one of those examples. That money was not budgeted for those items just like some of the intervention services that we’re providing weren’t budgeted for this year but we shifted that,” Rydell says. “So as far as job losses go, we’ve had minimal as a result of this, and this will allow us to preserve jobs as opposed to the fiscal uncertainty that we started the year with with 20 percent state aid cuts, when each of our districts are heavily dependent on aid, it would have been, for lack of a better term, catastrophic as far as our staffing goes had that come to fruition.”
Del Moro says some of the American Rescue Plan funding will help with learning intervention services. He, too, addresses the district’s budget approach.
“We are very concerned about that K-3 developmental time that will have a long-lasting impact, and we are going to use these funds over a period of time, as we mentioned, to support those needs in terms of enhancing their experiences because we realize that come September, this doesn’t all go away if we’re back to pre-COVID environments, and that we have acknowledged that in our curricula revisions that are taking place this year and will continue over the summer, again, an additional expense that is not budgeted for, certainly the, all of the masks and other sanitizers that are in our buildings and barriers and so on,” Del Moro says. “And at this point in time, Middletown as well is not anticipating any layoffs, but we haven’t filled certain positions that we were able to probably reposition workers to so that during this pandemic time we realize the impact that it’s had on our family community, and we’re very concerned about sustaining that.”
He and the others say it’s too soon to know how the pandemic affects graduation rates.