By Linda Dillman
With two months to go before the start of the 2020-21 school year, Canal Winchester Schools Superintendent James Sotlar does not know what education will look like at the end of August.
“We’re exploring all kinds of options,” Sotlar said, “but we’re awaiting guidance from the governor on what we plan on doing next year. Hopefully, my goal is that we come back under a very traditional type setting. I can’t tell you more than that right now because we’re waiting on guidance.”
Just how long it takes for state guidance to filter down to the local level is unknown, so the district is preparing as best it can for a variety of options, including a duel online/in-class option.
“We’re working on alternate plans along the lines of possibly a hybrid system,” said Sotlar. “We’ve got three to four different things we’re working on. We’re just waiting to hear from the governor and the state for guidelines, whether they’re recommendations or requirements.”
Sotlar said a consideration to include in the mix is busing—seating distancing and route changes if bus capacity is cut and schools operate on a schedule unlike the past.
“There are still a lot of unknowns out there,” Sotlar said, before asking for patience from families and the community. “As soon as we get guidance from the state, we’ll get something out there to everyone within a short period of time. I do know Aug. 31 will be our start date for kids unless something comes out and we’re told otherwise. My personal opinion is our kids need to be in school, but we have to deal with COVID and it’s not going away.”
He said there is also a financial aspect, in addition to the academic side of education, to consider in the time of a pandemic. With a hybrid system of education, buses would bring children to school at different times, which could increase the number of bus trips.
“There are a lot of factors that will go into the decision,” said Sotlar. “Fortunately for us, we don’t start until Aug. 31, so we have a little more time to work on a plan.”
While the district awaits direction from the state, the pandemic is having an unanticipated impact on school finances in cuts in state revenue, but also lower fuel and insurance costs.
Treasurer Nick Roberts reported May was the first month the district lost half its state foundation revenue.
“They cut one of two foundation payments, so we lost a couple hundred thousand,” said Roberts.
Overall, revenue for the period was up, albeit around one percent. Supply and material costs were down—mainly due to the decrease in fuel use and supply purchases.
“We spend about $35,000 a month in bus fuel, so we’ve saved most of that,” said Roberts.
In looking at health insurance, Roberts said that three months ago he was looking at a negative cash balance in the fund, but as of June 15, there was $265,000 to the good.
“Which is amazing,” said Roberts. “There’s been a drastic decline in claims, but they’re still up year-over-year.
As far as the impact COVID-19 response has on tax revenue, Robers said he will have more information when the first income tax settlement is received.
“The state revenue is not as bad as they anticipated,” said Roberts. “In my treasurer’s circle, we don’t expect to be cut by the state any more than earlier this year. It’s looking more positive.”