PINETOP-LAKESIDE — Short-term, school districts statewide have created graduation ceremonies to incorporate social distancing in the the time of COVID-19.
Long-term impacts of the pandemic to school districts across the country are still unfolding.
For Blue Ridge Unified School District (BRUSD) #32, coronavirus comes like an extra weight on top of last year’s failed Override Election. Art and Physical Education programs are being cut and some classified positions will be eliminated in the fall of 2020-2021.
“We are entering an unprecedented period of challenges and uncertainty,” says Blue Ridge Superintendent Michael L. Wright. “Despite all that, planning for the 2020-21 school year must move forward. Therefore, several essential district updates must be shared.”
The upcoming changes were communicated to teachers and staff in a letter from Wright. “First, given the failure of the 2019 Override Election, a 5% reduction in district spending, or $600,000 dollars’ worth of cuts must occur inside the 2020-2021 budget,” he writes. “Moreover, the current crisis has complicated budgeting matters owing to its impact on national, state, and local economies.”
Student enrollment is a key factor for school budget planning, no matter the district size or location. With students working from home, there could be an exodus to online enrollment in the fall which could have devastating impacts on school funding which rely on student enrollment numbers.
“… For more than a decade, we have experienced a steady decline within local student enrollment, resulting in less funding each year,” explains Wright. “… it’s unclear whether we will gain or lose students as a result of this tragedy. Secondly, the Arizona State lawmakers anticipate the Fiscal Year 2021 will suffer a revenue shortfall of at least 1.6 billion dollars, or significantly more.”
“… Arizona schools are funded on a per-student, current year basis, revenue used to support students is unknown until well after the start of each School Year,” continues Wright. “Thus, budgets are created well in advance of knowing several critical elements, including the number of students schools, must serve, making staffing decisions difficult to determine.”
Potential drops in student enrollment, Covid-19 consequences and a failed 2019 Override add up to critical decisions for the Blue Ridge school district as “… virtually every department and campus will be affected by our efforts to balance our budget,” says Wright.
“The reorganization of the district office is an example of our consolidation efforts, among other things, the removal of two positions, including the Director of Curriculum, full-time printshop support, elimination of software, salary reduction, as well combining responsibilities assumed by the district office staff. In total, the district office removed approximately $175, 000 dollars from its budget.”
Wright confirmed that all Blue Ridge campuses are facing reductions to staffing and some student programs. “Despite significant changes, schools retained core academic subjects, many advanced placement classes, most fine arts programs, the Fab Lab, all CTE classes, and all girls and boys athletics. However, eliminated are physical education and art courses at the elementary and high school.”
Overall, there will be fewer special courses and electives said Wright who also assured that “The administration made every effort to preserve as many jobs as possible,” which resulted in 15 jobs being saved.
Some teachers will be transferring to schools with “openings consistent with their certification and experience.” Some classified employees were also moved into new roles or locations.