Public schools continue to face challenges on all fronts due to the coronavirus, and Park County School District RE-2 is no exception.

The most pressing uncertainty pertains to an anticipated cut in state funding for public education, and just how deep those cuts will be for the upcoming school year. Adding to the discomfort for public school administrators is that they are required to produce their 2020-21 district budgets by the end of June.

The second source of uncertainty pertains to the upcoming fall semester, and how ongoing health concerns will impact learning models and on-campus attendance numbers. Those details cannot be deciphered until public health organizations and state officials announce guidelines and restrictions for the return of students to campus in August, and they will be wholly dependent upon the ever-changing status of new coronavirus cases, or the lack thereof.

What is known at this time is that school districts across the state will see considerable cuts in state funding for the next academic year, and that learning models and on-campus student attendance will likely be impacted once again by COVID-19 concerns.

In other words, what public school administrators do know is not especially encouraging, and what they don’t know seriously hamstrings their ability to plan and adjust for the “new normal.”

As for the anticipated decrease in state funding, PCSD RE-2 Superintendent Cindy Bear says her district can expect funding cuts of about $800,000 over the next academic year. She says the district has received $488,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds, and that those funds have already been received and spent by the district.

“It’s a juggling act for sure,” Bear said. “On one hand we are formulating and trimming the budget, and on the other hand we are considering three different potential models for opening the doors again this fall.”

Bear says she anticipates that students will be back on campus in some capacity for the new school year. How many students return to campus, and what guidelines or restrictions the district might be required to follow, are still purely speculative.

“We are not quite ready to announce specifics of the three models, but details will be released very soon once we receive a little more information from health organizations,” Bear said.

Bear said it is possible that the district will have to function on all three levels at various times during the upcoming school year. Those levels, it seems, will be determined by the overall state of public health, as well as guidelines set forth by public health organizations and state officials.

Even in a best-case scenario, according to Bear, it is unrealistic to expect that the number of students allowed on campus at one time will return to those seen before the viral pandemic occurred.

“The combination of budget and health concerns makes it almost certain that we will have to reduce the number of students on campus when we return for the fall,” Bear said.

In a recent survey to parents throughout the district, about 20 percent of those responding said they would opt for online learning if offered in the fall.

Bear said that online learning would likely by outsourced to an established company that offers direct teacher contact, while the district’s teaching staff would focus on in-person learning. If a situation arose in which no students were allowed on campus – like the last half of the 2020 spring semester – then the district’s current teaching staff would conduct remote learning.

Teachers can’t administer both online and in-person models simultaneously, according to Bear, so the district is preparing for the possibility that some students will be attending classes in person, while others will be utilizing remote learning.

“We learned a lot last spring with regards to our online models, and we will be much better prepared this time around,” Bear said.

The PCSD RE-2 school board met Thursday night to review, and to possibly approve, a proposed 2020-21 budget. Results from that meeting will be reported in the June 26 edition of The Flume.

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