Spring break, grading, laptop distribution and a looming budget deficit of nearly $90 million are all front and center for the Buffalo Public Schools, which are now four weeks into school closures due to the spread of Covid-19.
Here's what parents need to know:
No spring break. Spring break for more than 30,000 district students was supposed to start Friday and run through April 19, but the district officially notified parents that remote instruction will continue next week per the executive order issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Some parents had been looking forward to a break from the stress of educating their kids at home, but the governor’s orders said districts will not lose state aid for meeting fewer than the typically required 180 days this year, as long as they continue to provide remote instruction while schools are closed through April 29.
Superintendent Kriner Cash did say, however, students or staff may decide to “pause” from instruction on Good Friday and Easter Monday in light of the religious observance.
“The district acknowledges and respects the religious days that are part of this upcoming period,” Cash said. “While we are directed to continue alternative instructional options, no students or staff will be penalized for observing their religious holiday.”
Grading. Grades for the third quarter, which already closed, will not be posted until April 30, while the school district figures out how best to determine grading for students while schools have been closed during the third and fourth marking periods.
Laptop rollout: Thousands of laptops and iPads used in classrooms throughout the district will be distributed to students in grades three through eight starting Tuesday for use during this time of home instruction.
Starting next week, parents of students in grades three through eight will be assigned a time and day to pick up one of the roughly 14,000 devices from their child’s school.
Any devices not picked up on distribution day will be taken to a central location, said Myra Burden, the district's chief technology officer.
"We will be implementing and executing a 'fill-in' process, utilizing a limited number of hub sites, once we have completed the initial distribution to grades three through eight," Burden said in an email.
High school students took laptops home with them last month.
Budget hole ahead. Signs of tough financial times are starting to show amidst the backdrop of the pandemic.
The Board of Education was told this week that the district is projecting an $89.6 million budget gap next year, as it puts together a general fund budget that covers the district’s day-to-day operating expenses and totals roughly $1 billion.
When the state budget was released last week, district officials said foundation aid – the major funding pot for operations – appeared flat. But the district is projecting that total revenue will drop more than 3% from the current fiscal year, while expenditures for next year are expected to increase by 6.6%, said Geoffrey Pritchard, the district's chief financial officer.
One of the big unknowns right now is if – and how much – the state will take back from schools in the coming months, should revenue projections fall short due to the toll that Covid-19 has taken on the economy.
When asked about the potential for layoffs, Pritchard said: "With a deficit this large, layoffs will likely be part of the calculus."