Whether it’s an in-person education, remote only or a combination of the two, the cost of reopening schools this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic continues to mount for all school districts included Greater Amsterdam.
GASD has spent nearly $1 million on COVID-19 related expenses since the start of the 2020-21 fiscal year on July 1, and that number could more than double as the school year moves into actual “teaching mode” in September and beyond.
State health guidance requires districts to invest in Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies, technology for distance learning, set up staggered class schedules, and arrange extra bus routes to keep students at a safe distance from one another.
The costs of these accommodations are adding up at a time when districts are already being pinched by the virus-caused financial problems. School districts have been hopeful for an infusion of federal stimulus aid to help them safely reopen their buildings in the fall but to date none has surfaced in Washington, D.C.
During a presentation to the Board of Education Aug. 19, School Business Official Colleen DiCaprio presented an itemized list of COVID related school expenses being incurred to reopen GASD schools, and that list will continue to grow.
“We are nowhere near the end of it,” she said.
The early list totals about $900,000 and includes such costs (but not all costs) as:
- $267,253 in Chromebook purchases – 600 for remote learning by students at home and $30,000 to purchase Hot Spots for families who don’t have home Internet access
- $125,000 to cover employee unemployment costs since building closures in last March
- $90,000 for the first round of masks and other PPE
- $81,000 to supplement nursing services district-wide with sub help due to the need for increased monitor of COVID symptoms and protocol in schools
- $46,000 to purchase ThermoScan systems and $24,000 to buy additional temperature scanners for the buildings
- $32,000 to conduct an air quality survey of buildings and $3,500 to purchase special Merv filters to combat the spread of COVID in the air
- $10,000 in transportation costs to date to bring student meals into the community during the summer and school year
- $20,000 in consulting fees to set up bus routes and schedules
- $20,000 in legal fees for COVID guidance and compliance
- $15,000 in architectural fees to measure and set up classroom and other building space for proper social distancing
Additionally, the district expects to spend another $900,000 on a lease/purchase agreement for 1,580 more Chromebooks needed for student remote learning and money to upgrade water fountains and bathroom toilets to meet health and safety requirements.
COVID expenses didn’t start in July. Last spring, under new state voting regulations due to COVID, GASD spent $55,000 to print and mail absentee voting ballots for the 2020-21 budget vote and school board elections in May.
Nationally, a report from the American Federation of Teachers estimates that if all schools reopened in the fall, expenses associated with new staff to allow for social distancing, PPE, technology for continued remote learning, and extra attention for students who fell behind during the spring shutdowns would cost $116.5 billion or more than $2,000 per public school student.
New York schools also missed out on the first wave of stimulus money because the state supplanted its foundation aid allowances with the federal relief money given to states under the CARES Act. The state also froze foundation aid amounts this year due to the financial crisis brought on by the pandemic and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said that state education aid could be slashed by up to 20 percent mid-year if the state fails to meet its revenue goals.
The district will continue to seek out additional funding sources available through FEMA and other grants to help offset some of these COVID-related costs.