By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

Last week, the Delavan-Darien School Board discussed the long-term impact of COVID-19. The discussion was in response to a letter received by the district from the School Administrators Alliance, an advisory commission for school funding from the state.

The April 6 letter warned school districts to be alert for state budgetary difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting economic slowdown.

“Until just recently, what appeared to be a stable and predictable budget building environment for 2020-21 is suddenly neither stable nor predictable,” it stated. “Rapid deceleration of the state economy is expected to create a sharp downturn in state revenues for the fourth quarter of 2019-20, a trend which will almost certainly continue for the first two quarters of 2020-21 and perhaps well beyond.”

At the same time, demands on state resources are increasing due to the crisis, the letter went on to say. School districts were encouraged to exercise awareness, patience and caution in preparing their budgets for 2020-21. The advisory commission advised districts to save whatever money does not get spent the rest of the current school year – on things like substitute teachers and staff travel – for next year’s budget as state aid will likely be reduced.

The letter also advised districts to take the possible impact of COVID-19 on summer school into account in planning next year’s budget. Many districts count on the summer school pupil count in determining the next year’s revenue limit and equalization aid from the state. If COVID-19 forced summer school to be canceled, that benefit would be lost.

The impact on short-term cash flow borrowing market for the summer and fall of 2020 is also unknown at this point, the letter said. Demand for that kind of borrowing, which the DDSD has relied on in recent years, could go up nationally if state payments to districts is delayed.

Three scenarios were presented as possibilities for 2020-21: The state could find a way to provide the already planned $170 per member increase in funding to districts; could provide no increase at all, or; it could actually decrease funding by $50 per member.

“Patience will be required in budget development, and with it, caution regarding locking in firm commitments on salary increases, benefit plans and even staffing levels until more is known about the state’s capacity to fund public education,” it said.

To that end, the board agreed to table approval of contract agreements it had already negotiated with the teacher’s union and support staff for next year. District Administrator Jill Sorbie said she and Business Administrator Anthony Klein have been working on a contingency plan for next year’s budget.

“It is trying times right now. Many people have lost jobs and we will have to be fluid until we hear from the state,” Sorbie said.

She said the situation is fluid and that makes it difficult to lead and make decisions, but she praised staff for their efforts at continuing to educate the students.

Pass/fail

Despite the best efforts of teachers, Sorbie said it has been difficult to engage all students and measure growth accurately, so she recommended the district adopt a pass/fail system of grading for second semester as a result of the move to virtual learning.

She said schools all over the nation are making the move to pass/fail and it would not impact students’ grade point averages or standing in their classes at the high school.

Some discussion was had about the equity of not allowing students to be able to improve their grade if they are willing to put in more effort than pass/fail versus the need for many students to have access to school resources to succeed they don’t have right now or the uncertainty about what is going on at home during the crisis.

The motion passed unanimously.

The board also agreed to suspend the graduation requirement for current seniors of 24 credits to graduate. Sorbie said she did not want the current health crisis to potentially impact a student’s ability to graduate on time with their class.

Waivers

The board approved applying for three waivers from the state. They were to waive the state requirements on: how many minutes of instruction must be conducted, the Educator Effectiveness method of evaluating teachers for the remainder of the year, and; that this year’s seniors must have passed the state-mandated Civics Exam.

Sorbie said all three waivers are being expedited by the state and everyone is applying for them.

Public comments

No public comments were allowed at this meeting as it was held virtually. Discussion was had about if and how to incorporate public comments at future meetings. It was decided that district residents can submit comments to be read by School Board President Jeff Scherer at each meeting. Those comments should not take longer than three minutes to read.

Pay/transportation

The board approved continuing to find work for – and paying – hourly staff through June 11, as usual. The board also approved paying 62 percent of the remaining bus contract with Dousman Transport for the current school year.

Discussion was had about why the district should continue to pay for a service it’s no longer receiving versus wanting to make sure there will be a bus company to provide service next fall.

Recognitions

The Southern Lakes Conference announced its Academic Top Ten team, though its planned banquet to honor the members was canceled. Representatives from Delavan-Darien High School are Jarod Comas, Ryan Hoey, Andrew O’Niel, Ben Butke, Alexander Flesch, Gabriela Montelongo, Pablo Perez, Jasmin Speth, Jacob Prado, and Kailea Timmerman.

The district was also awarded the 2020 Best Communities for Music Education Award from the NAMM Foundation. The district has won the award every year since 2014.

 

 

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