HUDSON—The Hudson City School District (HCSD) is preparing to resume in-person classes September 14 amid uncertainty about state funding, which is already coming in lower than the amount budgeted.
At the September 1 Board of Education meeting Business Administrator Jesse Boehme reported that the state has begun to withhold 20% of the money it earmarked to pay the school district in installments throughout the year. “Unfortunately, we’ve already seen some of the loss,” he said.
On top of this, reported district Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier, adjustments to protect students, teachers and staff “have cost the district more than budgeted.”
A big concern for the district is whether the funding reduction is temporary or permanent, said Mr. Boehme. Governor Cuomo said it would be temporary “if the federal government gives us assistance,” but the State Department of Budget has warned that it can be permanent. “It all depends on the timing and size of the federal relief,” he said.
The HCSD’s 2020-21 budget, which voters approved in June, assumes $24.1 million in payments from the state for July 2020 through June 2021. If the cuts last the whole school year, “We don’t know the exact amount yet, but we estimate” the loss to the HCSD would be “around $4.7 million,” Mr. Boehme said.
Already, the state has given the HCSD 20% less than budgeted for using BOCES services, Mr. Boehme reported.
So far, the only budgeted HCSD programs and services cut have been those suspended anyway because of the Covid crisis, Dr. Suttmeier affirmed later. In addition, she said at the September 1 meeting, replacements are not being sought for some “late retirements.” A goal is to “maintain academic integrity without filling the positions,” but she added, “There may have to be mid-year decisions.”
The District has about $800,00 budgeted for the 2019-20 school year but not spent, said Mr. Boehme. , “We are grateful for the great work done by past business officials, like Sharifa Carbon and Robert Yusko. They put us in position to weather these tough economic times,” he said later in the meeting. Ms. Carbon, Mr. Boehme’s predecessor, was business administrator from 2015 until early this year. Mr. Yusko was business executive from 2012 to 2015.
Dr. Suttmeier reported that some school districts in worse financial shape than the HCSD have delayed opening.
“We’re lucky to have the funds we do,” said Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement April Prestipino. “I don’t have to use the general fund for my office.” She reported that because of the 20% reduction, she has changed her approach to the grants she is applying for, focusing “less on professional development and more on academic integrity.”
Most students will follow a hybrid model: their classes will be in person some days of the week and online the other days. The first in-person classes are slated for September 14. In-person students will find a new school environment, where:
• Students will not use their lockers
• Teachers have removed their “personal effects” from the classrooms to expedite cleaning
• Everyone will receive one re-usable mask, but disposable masks will also be available. Even people wearing a face shield will also have to wear a mask
• Although the High School auditorium holds over 1,100 people, only 127 people can be in it at one time, because, as Dr. Suttmeier said, “All persons must sit at least six feet apart in all directions”
The high school pool is not open at this time either to gym classes or the general public, but repairs on the pool are continuing
• Air filters will be changed every 4 months instead of every 6 months.
• The only desks remaining in operating school buildings are those that can be placed in ways that do not tempt people to violate social distancing protocols. The district is storing the remaining desks in the defunct John L. Edwards School building.
“Safety first” is a priority, said Dr. Suttmeier. “You don’t learn if you don’t feel safe.”
‘It all depends on the timing and size of the federal relief.’
Jesse Boehme, business administrator
Hudson City School District
Meanwhile, over 500 students in grades K-10 have been signed up for their classes to be 100% via video screen, Dr. Suttmeier reported later. “This does not account for students in grades 11 and 12,” 100% of whose classes will be online “at this time.”
Preliminary state data for the 2019-20 school year show the Hudson City School District total enrollment at between 1,650 and 1,700 total students.
Whether a teacher has both 100% online and hybrid students or only one type of student “depends on the grade and the course,” Dr. Suttmeier said.
Of the students who come in person, how many will have private transportation and how many will take the bus is still being worked out.
Also at the September 1, meeting, attendees announced:
• Empire State Trail, which is planned to pass in front of the High School/Junior High School, has experienced “completion delays,” and work on it may continue through November. So as not to interfere with the extended student drop off/pick up traffic, the work will wait until 8:30 am to start and can take a break during student dismissal time
• The softball fields and dugouts are done, though work on the modified fields is “on hold.” Whether the varsity baseball field will get a movable fence is “on the back burner”
• The tennis court lights have been on from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Both students and the general public use the tennis courts. The district considers tennis a low risk activity that benefits the health of the community.
The next meeting of the HCSD Board of Education will be Tuesday, September 15, in the Hudson High School Cafeteria at 6:30 p.m. It will be the first meeting open to the public in person since March.