Beginning next week, Spokane Public Schools hopes to get some input from the public as it faces budget uncertainties because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district will hold virtual budget forums on Tuesday and June 4 on a variety of subjects, including the sources and sustainability of future funds; student safety, health and wellness; remote learning; class size and staffing; and student supports and special education.
The forums will be followed by presentations at community groups and eventually a draft of a budget, the school board was told during a virtual meeting Wednesday night.
Like every other district in the state, Spokane is facing a multitude of budget uncertainties stemming from the economic downturn from the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, the state estimated a $7 billion shortfall in state tax revenues through the 2023 fiscal year.
But Associate Superintendent Linda McDermott shared some good news Wednesday night: Several district spending initiatives are eligible for federal aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
The funding, totaling $320 million, will be awarded by jurisdictions beginning in early June to human service organizations assisting those in need throughout the country.
Spokane is considering spending $4.2 million on technology – for laptops and other hardware, plus other expenses – to improve its distance learning capability. Another candidate is about $600,000 for instructional support software.
That could be offset, McDermott warned, by reduced revenue should large numbers of parents opt to keep their children home because of COVID fears – even if school buildings reopen in the fall.
“This has the potential to impact our enrollment,” McDermott said.
“Our initial assumption is stable enrollment, but right now we’re in this awkward space.”
For example, a reduction of 200 full-time equivalent students could mean a $2 million reduction in revenue.
That in turn could mean some buildings are overstaffed, in which case some of those teachers could be used as permanent substitutes.
That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, McDermott said, because “in this environment, we don’t know whether we will have higher absenteeism.”
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