GREENSBORO — Additional nurses and custodians. Plastic barriers, face shields, gloves and masks. Carts to bring food to classrooms instead of sending students to eat in crowded cafeterias.
These and other changes needed to make students and staff safer from the coronavirus will cost at least $98 million in the 2020-21 school year, Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras said in a letter to county commissioners dated Tuesday. With $22 million expected in federal funding, that leaves at least a $76 million funding gap, she said.
The list includes a mix of what district leaders believe they must have, might need or could use, Chief of Staff Nora Carr said Wednesday.
The switch to distance learning was made in mid-March after the state ordered schools to close their buildings to help stem the spread of COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
As for what school could be like when the new year starts, that remains to be seen. But requirements for social distancing and recommendations for deep cleaning when a coronavirus case is discovered, point to a combination of in-person classes and distance learning.
“You’re probably not going to want to put 25 to 30 students in one classroom,” Carr said. “Given our space considerations, that precludes all children going to school at the same time.”
And she added that experts are advising educators to plan for various situations.
“We’re basically trying to plan for multiple scenarios and be as flexible and nimble as we can,” Carr said.
The district identified at least $54 million in costs for various changes, including additional staffing to accommodate smaller classes to meet social-distancing requirements, plus another $44 million to address technology needs for continued distance learning, Contreras said in the letter.
Contreras sent the letter to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners on the same day they were considering how to spend $93.7 million in federal COVID-19 aid. Commissioners agreed to give $5 million of that money to schools, which is not included in what the district had calculated it would get from the federal government, said Angie Henry, the school system’s chief operations officer.
Here’s a look at some of the needs listed by the district:
- Personal protective equipment, thermometers and extra school nurses. Adding 83 nurses alone, to provide each school with at least a part-time nurse, would cost $3.5 million.
- Cleaning supplies, sanitation equipment and more custodial staff/services. Adding another 52 custodians to handle an expected increase in cleaning needs would cost $2.1 million.
- Office shields, directional signage, such as social-distancing markers, moving furniture and other changes to school building spaces.
- Computers and tablets for students and staff so everyone has a device, expanded internet access, privacy and security.
- More and reworked bus routes, drivers, buses, stops, mobile internet access.
- Carts, coolers and other equipment to move to meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria.
- More teachers/personnel to manage smaller classes due to social distancing, extra digital resources and texts to support remote learning. The cost of resources for digital learning is estimated at $6.2 million, or about $85 per student.
The list contains a lot of “to-be-determined” notes under estimated costs.
“There’s still a lot to decide,” Henry said. “We just wanted to create as comprehensive a list as we could knowing it is fluid and can constantly change.”
The request is just for the upcoming school year. It is separate from the district’s regular budget request, which has already been submitted, Henry said.
It also doesn’t account for what money the district might get from the state for dealing with the coronavirus next year, she said. Legislators are still discussing next year’s budget and the State Board of Education has not identified yet how it is handing out federal COVID-19 money for schools in areas such as school nutrition, Henry said.
Henry said district officials are still working out a report for commissioners about coronavirus-related expenses for this school year, which ends June 5. She expects that even with extra costs due to some changes, savings from other areas will help the district stay within what it had budgeted for this academic year.