Centralia School District Superintendent Lisa Grant and other district officials addressed the public’s concerns regarding the upcoming levy election, school cleaning, the reopening plan and other aspects of what school will look like for students returning in the fall.
The Centralia School District held a question and answer session over Zoom for families and community members on Wednesday afternoon. Along with Grant, the district’s Executive Director of Human Resources Tabitha Whiting and Rick Bonner, the district’s executive director of Fiscal Services, were also in attendance to help answer questions.
“I’ve heard from some people that if the governor or someone else closes schools then we won’t need the levy funds — we will need the levy funds, in fact, the pandemic, in some ways is saving us money and some ways costing us more. If schools are closed due to the pandemic the levy funds will still help us provide services to students that are needed,” Grant said.
Grant said that the virtual instruction in the fall will be much more robust than it was this past spring. The need for technology and staff to provide the instruction will still be prevalent even if schools do not open in the fall.
Whiting and Bonner addressed concerns about what school will look like if the levy fails in the Aug. 4 election. The cost of the levy is $2 per $1,000 in asset property value.
“We’re obviously going to have to open schools up whether the levy passes or not but the robustness of what we can offer is impacted by the levy passage,” said Whiting.
Bonner echoed her sentiment and said that the district has already planned for a double levy failure.
“We have built a budget where we can run the school year without passing the levy but it makes it so that we need to make more cuts for the next school year,” said Bonner.
Grant reiterated that many programs and activities are funded by levy dollars — athletics, after-school activities, the highly capable program, music, art and intervention and enhancement programs.
“When a levy fails — a double levy failure— even if it passes the next year, it takes multiple years to recover and very honestly, it affects the larger community. So we know it affects our students and staff immediately but we know businesses look at schools and the strength of schools when they look at moving to a community….it impacts our larger community. Even citizens without students in the school district will be impacted,”
The topic of sanitation of the schools and the custodial staff was discussed at the forum. When Centralia made budget cuts to address the $11.9 million deficit, eight custodial/maintenance positions were not refilled. Grant said that the district will be able to properly clean each school but the current number of custodial staff is not ideal.
“In the 2020-21 school year, we will have one day-time custodian at each elementary school and two nighttime custodians that will rotate between the five schools. We, I believe, have three and a half custodians at the high school and two at the middle school. That is the staffing model as of right now,” Whiting said.
Since two nighttime custodians will be responsible for five elementary schools, the priorities of cleaning may shift toward sanitization of high-touch areas rather than other types of cleaning such as vacuuming, Whiting said.
Grant said that OSPI provides some guidance about the number of custodians needed per square foot of a school.
“It’s not ideal but we have talked about, as schools reopen, we may need more disinfecting and cleaning. We might use some of the federal CARES dollars, at least temporarily, to add to the cleaning to make sure we are meeting the needs of students and staff,” said Grant. “We are currently analyzing that as part of our plan.”
Grant said that the district is purchasing a mask for each student but said students and parents may want to have some masks on hand as well.
“We may very well use some of the levy funds to respond to the needs of the pandemic. We have been submitting grants… and we have the federal CARES Act funding that we are using to cover the costs,” she said.
Rick Bonner said that the district has ordered masks, has hand sanitizer and should have enough resources initially.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s reopening guidelines states that school districts should screen students each day for COVID-19 symptoms. Grant said the district is still working out the details of what the screening will look like in Centralia.
The recording of the full Q & A session can be watched on the Centralia School District Facebook page.