Return to School Planning Implementation and Cost-July 1, 2020 Recap

Article | 10.07.2020

By George Kacan, Education Sector Leader, Wightman 
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The July 1st Wednesdays With Wightman Town Hall focused on the return of students and teachers to school in the fall as many mandated requirements are being proposed to provide a safe environment. We discussed the implementation and cost of reopening our schools and what school districts could expect to spend in addition to their regular operating expenses. George Kacan, Regional Director of Architecture and Education Sector Leader, facilitated the session.

The Center for Disease Control Decision Tree provides districts with general guidance for reopening schools. It is essential to understand and examine the goals and actions incorporated in the Decision Tree. The town hall meeting is an opportunity to explore "What We Need to Know Now; How Best to Plan for the Future" as we look ahead to the "new normal."

Moderated by Dr. Thomas Langdon, a part-time Superintendent for Walkerville Schools and an educational consultant for Wightman, the session featured a panel discussion. The panel included Ms. Karen Weimer, Superintendent, Brandywine Community Schools, and Ms. Ellen Hasse, Business Manager, Berrien Springs Public Schools.

Our featured guests shared their best practices for implementing the CDC guidelines and discussed the additional costs associated with reopening schools. The meeting's purpose was: Through constant dialogue, we will help each other help students!

The panel discussion began the daunting task of unpacking the many additional steps required in Governor Whitmer's MI Safe Schools: Michigan's 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap, and we reviewed the "What will it cost to reopen schools" study prepared by American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and Association of School Business Officials (ASBO).  The four areas of additional expenditures to meet the Governor's Roadmap requirements include:

  • Adhering to Monitoring and Cleaning /Disinfecting Protocols.
  • Hiring Staff to Implement Health and Safety Protocols.
  • Providing Personal Protective Equipment.
  • Providing Transportation and Child Care.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicated more than 36,000 schools nationally have inadequate heath conditions to reopen – everything from water faucets that don't work to insufficient ventilation. These are issues of basic hygiene and indoor air quality.

Mary Filardo, CEO of the 21st Century School Fund, Janice Jackson, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, and others hope the GAO report provides some leverage for federal infrastructure support in a new round of coronavirus relief as well as the Rebuild America's Schools Act.  Legislation introduced last year by Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, which would pump $100 billion into schools through a federal-state match to address physical and digital infrastructure needs.

"Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, outdated and hazardous school buildings were undermining the quality of public education and putting students and educators at risk," Scott said in a statement. "Now, the pandemic is exacerbating the consequences of our failure to make the necessary investments in school infrastructure."

We discussed the issue of inadequate facilities but focused on immediate expenditures necessary to reopen schools safely this fall.

Reviewing the AASA and ASBO study see below:

The discussion included:

  • Students have been out of the classroom since March 2020, how much student retention and learning loss will need to be remediated, what is the cost to accomplish this?
  • If we revert to Phase Three of Governor Whitmer's Roadmap, schools can anticipate additional Professional Development cost to continue remote learning protocols.
  • Based on Phase Four of Governor Whitmer's Roadmap, cleaning requirements necessitates additional staff at the expense of another FTE, potentially at each school.
  • How much Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is necessary for students, this expense can be significant since new masks are required every day, and all occupants consume hand sanitizer.
  • Transportation may not be as challenging regarding cost as long as all passengers and drivers wear masks. However, should screening be required, a school aid may be necessary, therefore incurring additional expenses.
  • All participants agreed that Governor Whitmer's Roadmap, Phase Four, is the most restrictive, will be most costly and most difficult to implement.

Other areas of discussion included:

  • Rescheduling sports seasons, how do you budget for the unknown.
  • Our panelists urged schools to document all COVID-19 expenses separately should funding become available to defer those additional expenses.
  • There may be opportunities to use future additional funding for technology upgrades due to the need for remote learning if students are not allowed back into the classrooms.
  • Many superintendents are meeting this week to discuss Governor Whitmer's MI Safe Schools: Michigan's 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap and how best to implement, seeking collective effort opportunities.
  • The impact of Health Screening Management could require significant time allocation of administration.
  • Wightman utilizes a web-based application developed by our GIS group to collect, store and track Health Screening Management information.

The discussion ended with George providing a wrap-up of the key points made during the town hall meeting. Wednesdays With Wightman series occur every two weeks, with the next Town Hall meeting scheduled for July 15th, 2020.

Our next meeting will focus on Physical Distancing through the use of Furniture, sharing ideas, understanding the cause and effect of decisions, and reviewing the potential cost for implementation. Our panelists include Gregg Cothern, Regional Education Manager, Steelcase, and Nikki Probst, VP, Business Relations, Custer.

To attend the next town hall, sign up here.

Here is a recording of the session.