Districts adding up costs to return to school during COVID-19

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s going to cost money no matter the size of the school district as South Dakota Schools plan for a return to the school building this fall during a coronavirus pandemic.

Beresford School District Superintendent Brian Field said his district plans to spend about $100,000 of federal coronavirus relief money, or ESSER money, on changing a half-time English language learner teaching position to a full-time position and adding some tutors.

Field said the district will also be seeking additional grant money the state plans to make available for professional staff development geared toward ELL instruction.

The Beresford District has a growing English language learner population, Field said.

The Watertown School District has about 3,900 students.

Watertown superintendent Jeff Danielson said the district hasn’t yet tallied the coronavirus costs but know his district will be spending in at least triple digits.

The Sioux Falls School District with about 25,000 students said in a summary of its back to school plan that costs were estimated at about $7.1 million.

The federal government has earmarked money for coronavirus relief for districts but the estimated cost in Sioux Falls is much higher than the federal and state money designated for the district, according to a list from the South Dakota Department of Education.

The state will receive about $41 million total in federal COVID-19 relief money for education.

Beresford would receive a combined LEA formula allocation and state level funds reallocation for a total amount of $113,926 in elementary and secondary school emergency relief (ESSER) money. Watertown is slated to receive a combined ESSER amount of $697,011 while Sioux Falls is slated to receive $4,630,610 in ESSER money.

For a list of COVID-19 relief money slated for all public school districts in South Dakota, click the document below.

Field said Beresford’s back to school plan will include additional cleaning and other measures. The school district plans to use money from its custodial supply fund to pay for those needs.

Danielson said some Watertown staff will need personal protection equipment, plexiglass barriers will be installed in some areas, masks will likely need to be provided and water fountains will need to be converted to bottle refill capability. Costs for such items add up.

Both superintendents said returning to the school building is a goal but it must be safe for students and staff.

The Watertown School Board will receive a summary of the district back to school plan at Monday night’s meeting. Field said the Beresford plan will be completed by Aug. 1 with additional review to follow. The Sioux Falls District will review a summary of its plan at Monday night’s meeting.

Field and Danielson said their district plans are similar to the multi-structured plan in Sioux Falls, which was included in the online agenda packet on the website.

Phases include students back in school buildings, a hybrid or modified plan, in which some students are in school while others are learning remotely and all students using distance learning. Pieces within plans include modified classrooms, possible modified schedules and others.

Danielson said a 35-member task force met in June to develop a back to school plan. “It was a real productive group,” he said. But he told them upfront that on Aug. 26 that plan could be abandoned because of changes in the pandemic.

Beresford sent a survey to parents and 286 parents representing 500 of the district’s 700 students responded, Field said. Of those, 94% said they wanted students to return to the classroom in the fall.

That’s the plan for now, but “we want all four models ready to go so that we can move from one to another” as needed, Field said.

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