New Canaan Public Schools needs $1.5 million to $2 million beyond what’s budgeted for the current fiscal year to cover expenses related to COVID-19 virus, as well as funds for additional staffing needed to meet a rise in enrollment, district officials said Monday.
The district already has spent about $600,000 in areas such as technology (primarily), supplies, signage, barriers and sanitation stations—half again as much as a $400,000 “non-lapsing” account built into the spending plan for fiscal year 2021, according to NCPS Director of Finance and Operations Dr. Jo-Ann Keating.
“Moving forward, the big items that we have are staffing—and we can’t really nail that down right now, because it’s going to depend on a number of different things that we just experience annually, like turnover savings,” Keating told members of the Board of Education at their regular meeting, held via videoconference. “And we have added staff but we may have additional turnover savings based on the number of retirements that we have had.”
The district will have a better handle on staffing numbers come September, when it’s more clear just how many kids are attending public schools, Keating said. Major COVID-related technology expenses include WiFi and a classroom livestream learning system with improved audio and visual elements, she said.
“So we are thinking anywhere between $2 million [and] $1.5 million,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to say until we have those numbers nailed down.”
The discussion arose as Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi presented the district’s phased plan for the upcoming academic year. It calls for all students to attend school in-person Oct. 5, so long as health data shows community transmission of the COVID-19 virus remains low, he said.
Luizzi said he and Keating, along with Board of Education Chair Katrina Parkhill, had met with Board of Finance Chair Todd Lavieri to talk about the need for funding. Part of the need is being driven by rising enrollment, officials said, amid a hot local real estate market that some have attributed to young families seeking suburban homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Luizzi said that in the past couple of weeks, the district has had to add four teachers due to increases in enrollment.
“We still don’t know for sure what the enrollment is going to look like,” he said. Luizzi added, “We are keeping classes within the class size guidelines, and we have got some that are really very close to the top of the guidelines again.”
Due to the closure of school buildings March 12, the district underspent by about $2 million last fiscal year, Luizzi said (though the books haven’t been closed out).
Board of Ed Vice Chair Brendan Hayes said the district essentially is asking to shift what wasn’t spent last year into the 2020-21 academic year “as a result of obviously extraordinary circumstances.”
Luizzi noted that the school district experienced “a particularly challenging budget season” in setting this year’s spending plan. The school board’s budget request was reduced not only as it related to costs associated with a change to school start Tims but also by more than $500,000 beyond that, Luizzi said.
“So we were running pretty lean already coming into this year and certainly nobody anticipated these kinds of costs,” he said.
Luizzi said the conversation with Lavieri was a “very productive conversation.”
Parkhill said, “I just think that we asked for some operational flexibility in light of the fact that these items are not in our budget and obviously we would proceed with fiscal prudence.”
The Board of Ed is expected to appear before the Board of Finance at the latter’s special meeting, to be held 7 p.m. Wednesday, and which will be watchable via Zoom.