Coronavirus has upended and closed many of the public school buildings. While the buildings may be closed, instruction continues, mostly using online instruction and distance learning. How has the tumult effected school spending? What are the costs for districts and what savings might accrue?
Those are questions Education Week (subscription may be required) recently asked school fiscal analysts across the country
Here’s what they found:
Here Are the Big Costs for Districts:
- Staffing: Most districts have continued to employ their entire staffsthrough the rest of the school year, including teacher assistants, counselors, librarians and administrative assistants. Many hourly workers were reassigned to other duties such as passing out grab-and-go meals or providing childcare.
- Janitors and cleaning supplies: Many janitors are being paid double time or overtime for cleaning every door knob, desk, light switch, locker, and other high-touch surface in schools. If schools reopened to serve as child care centers, administrators redeployed janitors to clean several rooms, ramping up overtime costs even more. Many districts also had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to purchase heavy-duty cleaning supplies. One Oregon district said it had spent $23,000 on overtime for essential employees in one week and had spent $10,000 on cleaning supplies, according to a March 23 survey of school district leaders by the EdWeek Research Center. A California district reported in the survey that it had spent $60,000 on hand sanitizer.
- Technology: Districts’ technology costs vary depending on how ready they were to deploy a comprehensive distance-learning program. Costs include purchasing licenses agreements for new software, wi-fi hot spots, communication tools for teachers, online curriculum, and professional development for teachers who must shift their teaching to virtual platforms. Many districts had to purchase more laptops or other devices for students who didn’t have them. Those costs are likely to increase in the coming months as districts figure out students’ needs. An official in a New Jersey district reported that the district spent $36,000 on Wi-Fi devices to provide to students who do not have internet access in their homes, according to the EdWeek survey.
- Food Services: Districts are deploying food services across the city, which often times requires new investment in staffing, transportation, supplies and food.
Here Are Some Savings for Districts:
- Substitute teachers: Many districts decided not to pay their subsitute teachersfor the remainder of the year, outraging many people who work as full-time subsitute teachers. Whether or not substitute teachers get paid depends on their contract with the district, state law, or governors’ waivers from the state law.
- Transportation: Not putting dozens, or in some cases, hundreds of school buses on the road every day for several weeks will likely save districts tens of thousands of dollars, particularly in gas and maintenance costs. Many districts deployed a smaller fleet of buses to deliver meals to students or to serve as wi-fi hotspots in neighborhoods that lack internet access.
- After-school programs: With no students in school buildings for a prolonged period, many districts don’t have to pay for costs associated with spring sports programs, after-school clubs, or other events. But administrators said there’s a loss too—they won’t be bringing in revenue from those programs.
It should be noted these highlights are from interviews across the country. Cost trends in North Carolina might be slightly different in some areas. For example the costs for online learning in rural districts may be higher because of the lack of infrastructure and broadband. Regarding savings, expect North Carolina schools to produce similar budget savings. How will savings compare with expected budget reductions? That’s a key question and one of the challenges superintendents will need to skillfully manage in the coming months.