Uncertainty over the how the next school year will unfold dominated discussion at the regular June meeting of the Vernon Independent School District board of Trustees, held Monday, June 15. Superintendent Jeff Byrd said they were working on balancing increased costs, uncertain finances with concerns about a second wave of coronavirus cases.
Byrd said district administrators are creating a reentry plan for each school for the fall, and are working to meet all state guidelines to ensure a safe environment for students and staff.
Byrd said that a second wave of coronavirus is expected next year, but no one can say when it will happen. To deal with the possibility of a prolonged closure of school, the district has been mandated to amend its calendar and prepare for outages. Byrd said the first thing they did was add in 10 minutes of additional classroom instruction each day. He said that will give the district 3.8 additional days of teaching time. He added that the teachers’ work day would not change, it would still be from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Byrd said they also have two snow days built in. He then asked the board to approve nine additional flex days to be tacked on at the end of the year, to be used in case of a pandemic forced shut-down. He said if there are no issues, the last day of school would be May 21 with graduation on May 22. However, in an emergency the extra flex day would be used. They would be after Memorial Day on May 25 through May 28, and May 31 through June 4. In that event graduation would be held on June 5.
“We could shut down for three weeks with no remote instruction necessary,” Byrd said, adding if a closure is more than that then they will have to go back to the remote learning mode like this past spring. The trustees approved the change to the calendar adding the flex days by a unanimous vote on a motion from trustee Kevin Young.
The trustees discussed the budget for the next fiscal year, which will be finalized before Sept. 1 and talked about the lack of clarity from the Texas Education Agency on how enrollment-based state funding will be calculated in an uncertain education environment shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.
Byrd said fortunately the district doesn’t have to set a budget for next year until alter this summer, unlike districts that have a fiscal year beginning July 1. He said right now the district is planning a 2 percent of midpoint pay raise for all employees not on the teacher scale. He said teacher step raises are also budgeted.
The district is planning to reopen in the fall, but is also working with the potential that they will have to continue offering families the option of remote learning at home, and may have to provide the tablet and internet access to pull that off. In addition, Superintendent Byrd said they may receive less state funding for those students, while having to expend more resources.
“The big rumor is we may have to supply remote instruction. We may need to have internet access throughout town and provide a tablet to every student,” Byrd said.
The trustees instructed staff to earmark some fund balance for use on providing internet in the community if the state requires it.
Byrd said TEA guidance on how students will be counted is expected to be released later this week. He added that may impact how much money the state provides, and it could be less than expected.
Byrd also said that the Centers for Disease Control updated guidelines for reopening schools, and it will be impossible for VISD to completely follow those rules.
He said that the school would have to run each bus route four times in the morning, beginning at 4 a.m. and run each route four times in the evening, ending at 8 p.m., to meet social distancing guidelines. He said the district would have to have four different lunches to keep children apart in the cafeteria. The recommendations are not mandates though, and the district is reviewing how they can meet as many recommendations as possible.
Superintendent Byrd also said that the plans for the proposed alternative campus are on hold at the moment.
“We are overwhelmed with what the state is requiring of us,” Byrd said “The alternative campus) is important and we need to do it. But I’m not sure we can do it before school starts. We may have to wait,” he said.