The following remarks were made by Superintendent Steve Webb at the Sept. 8 school board meeting
Tonight, I will recommend to the board two reduced educational support program resolutions to reduce hours through temporary layoffs that will impact valued SEIU and VAESP employees. All affected employees will continue to receive health benefits and will be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. Consistent with both contracts, employees will be notified of these temporary layoffs tomorrow. Their last working day will be September 22.
These reductions are gut wrenchingly painful. I wish none of them were necessary. These employees are friends, colleagues and champions for children. They are respected in our school district and our community. Unfortunately, school district budgets across the state are being impacted by the COVID pandemic. With no ridership, transportation revenue is reduced. With fewer students accessing meals, nutrition services revenue declines. With students learning remotely, we presently have fewer in-school staffing needs.
Once we can return safely to in-person learning consistent with Clark County Department of Health guidelines, we will be able to begin the process of recalling some of these employees. As you know, we’ll transition first to a K-5 hybrid schedule, and then, assuming COVID-19 transmission trend data continue to meet CCDOH thresholds, we’ll be able to transition our 6-12 students to a hybrid schedule approximately one month later. We will collaborate with our labor union partners as the recall process unfolds. Even with a full K-12 hybrid schedule in place, our staffing needs will be different going forward.
Compounding this short-term challenge is the COVID-19 impact on our student enrollment. Many families have exercised choice. With kindergarten enrollment down by more than 400 students, statewide on-line school enrollment loss of nearly 300 students, and new intent to homeschool applications up by 400 students, we are facing a long-term challenge of 1,100 students below our budgeted FTE. This is equivalent to approximately $11 million in state apportionment. Our shortfall grows because we self-insure unemployment benefits. Unemployment claims have tripled due to COVID-19 and will escalate significantly due to the temporary layoffs. We estimate that our unemployment benefit obligation for the year could reach $5 million. Today, we are forecasting a $16 million total shortfall that will require permanent reductions in costs. Student enrollment counts are being finalized this week. So this is an early estimate.
As we’ve done in the past, we will work to balance the budget using multiple measures. Our team has identified all certificated and classified vacancies. Leaving these vacancies unfilled may require reassignments. We will collapse some existing sections/classes and reassign certificated teaching staff. We have set aside a workforce stabilization reserve in our fund balance. The magnitude of our shortfall may require permanent reductions in our workforce this year and next.
On the board’s agenda are two resolutions that identify the following reductions due to COVID-19 and financial necessity:
The SEIU resolution calls for a temporary reduction of 1319.75 hours daily affecting 275 employees in transportation services, nutrition services, and safety and security. Forty-six of those employees are receiving reduced hours.
The VAESP resolution calls for a temporary reduction of 1760.4 hours daily affecting 354 employees who serve as secretaries, clerks and paraprofessionals. Of those employees, 136 are receiving reduced hours. Special education paraprofessionals are excluded from reductions.
In total, 629 employees are being impacted by this action. Of those, 182 employees are receiving a partial reduction in hours.
I am extremely frustrated and disappointed in the failure of our national leadership to do what’s right for our nation’s children and the public education system. Our students, their families and public schools throughout the U.S. are being abandoned. We are left on our own to fight every battle, whether it’s feeding hungry kids, providing broadband connectivity, covering PPE/health precaution costs and partnering with our community to identify child care options. We can only hope that our national leaders get their act together soon. We need them to reach an agreement this fall on the next COVID-19 stimulus package. I’m afraid that federal assistance is the only temporary lifeline for our schools. The state’s biennial budget picture is even more dire with an estimated $9 billion shortfall. Districts throughout the state are expecting legislated cuts in 2021-22.
I know questions have been raised about the governor’s proclamation that would permit districts to expense meal and technology distributions to transportation funds. Unfortunately, we are only reimbursed for transporting students.
Similarly, the USDA summer meal extension does not fully reimburse districts for providing meals. Last spring, our meal distribution efforts were subsidized by COVID CARES Act funding by nearly $2M.
Lastly, we also have been asked how the district has spent the COVID CARES Act dollars released to us in late spring. Of the $5.4 million received, approximately $2 million was spent on K-2 iPads and WiFi hot spots, $1.6 million on PPE/sanitation and thermal imaging technology, $2 million to subsidize nutrition service meals, and $900,000 on professional development to transition to remote learning 2.0. COVID 19 has already encroached on our general fund by $1 million to date.
I understand people are frustrated. We have been asked to do the impossible, with inadequate funding, politicized debate about opening schools, and a laissez-faire approach at the national level with respect to our nation’s schools and children.
We’ll do our very best to continue to support all of our employees. These are, without question, unprecedented times. I deeply regret the need to take this painful yet necessary action.