For the health and safety of its students, the Platte Canyon School District closed its campuses in mid-March and utilized remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester.

Since that time, however, it has been the health of the district’s financial situation that has materialized into the immediate concern.

Loss of revenue due to the coronavirus, combined with anticipated state funding cuts for the upcoming 2020-21 academic year, also due to the coronavirus, has dealt about an $850,000 blow to the district’s budget.

As a result, and after a painstakingly thorough exploration of all possible budgetary options, the district has announced that a salary freeze for the 2020-21 academic school year will be necessary as a means of making financial ends meet.

On the brighter side, the federal government has approved a coronavirus relief measure to all pubic schools, which should equate to about $550,000 in much needed funds for PCSD. The district also has a healthy fund balance that will help to survive the economic hardships imposed by the viral pandemic.

The district plans to continue its performance-based bonus incentive program for employees, throughout the 2020-21 academic school year, despite freezing regularly scheduled, state-funded raises.

“We are fortunate to have a pretty healthy fund balance,” said PCSD Superintendent Mike Schmidt. “The COVID-19 relief funds will help, but there are some restrictions attached to those funds. Even so, we plan to spend every penny of them.”

Schmidt said formulating a budget for the upcoming year has been challenging because it is still unknown exactly how much funding will be cut at the state levels on public education for the coming school year.

As a result of those uncertainties, the district created two versions of the 2020-21 proposed budget and withheld approving either of the options as long as possible.

The PCSD school board did approve the second of the two versions at its last regularly scheduled meeting, although the state still has not provided specific projections for next year’s public education funding.

The approved version of the 2020-21 budget can be reviewed in its entirety at www.plattecanyonschools.org.

As a final note Schmidt added that, despite funding and budgetary concerns, school resource officers would be on campus when school resumes in the fall.

“We have an excellent relationship with the Sheriff’s Office, and our SROs will be in place just as planned for the 2020-21 school year,” Schmidt said.

As for the fall 2020 semester

Much like attempting to project what the state legislature will decide regarding the funding of public education, PCSD administrators are also challenged to project what next fall will look like in terms of students returning to campus.

So, as a means of preparing for all possible scenarios, PCSD is considering three separate options for the fall semester: 1) All kids return to campus in a safe fashion; 2). A hybrid plan, whereby there is partial, or rolling attendance; or 3) Remote learning, as was practiced during the final half of the Spring 2020 semester.

The district is also seeking input from families across the district pertaining to the resumption of school in the fall. A survey has been released, and had drawn almost 400 responses as of June 11. The district is still inviting responses, and the survey is ongoing.

Thus far, about 68 percent of parents say they could transport, or arrange for transportation, at least initially, for their own kids to school this fall if social distancing measures restrict normal transportation. About 14 percent of respondents say they could not, and about 17 percent say they are unsure.

If PCSD returns to an in-person learning model in August, 76 percent of parents responding say they would send their children to school. Less than 5 percent say they would keep their children at home, while about 20 percent say they are unsure.

When asked how comfortable they are returning to an in-person model (some or all students at school, socially distanced) if health guidelines allow, about 52 percent said they were “comfortable without reservations.”

About 29 percent answered “comfortable with a few reservations,” another 15 percent answered “comfortable with a lot of reservations,” and less than four percent answered “not comfortable at all.”

Answers were very similar regarding extra-curricular activities.

Almost 98 percent of parents said they did have the ability to check their children’s temperature at home.

Schmidt commented at Monday’s board meeting that it was his strong preference to have students back on campus when the 2020 fall semester begins, but that the district would be prepared for all contingencies.

On the PCSD website, Schmidt stated the following with regards to what the fall semester would look like:

“Because information regarding the COVID-19 virus and related health restrictions continues to evolve, it is difficult to answer the question precisely, three months out from our August start date,” Schmidt said.

“We hope that a slow, thoughtful approach will allow us to turn the current obstacles into opportunities for improvement. I know that our District families crave solid information. I want you to know that we will be prepared, regardless of the limitations we face, but we will always strive to have as many of our students in our buildings, as often as possible, as safely as possible.”

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