Some of the COVID-19 mitigation measures for next school year in Petersburg are still an unknown. School officials are putting together a plan for what face covering and other health measures may look like and say guidance on that is changing. It also may be different in the three local schools and take into account vaccination rates and case numbers. Petersburg’s school board heard the latest update Tuesday.
School districts have until June 23rd to post on their website a plan for mitigation measures expected in the upcoming school year. It will cover expectations for masking, distancing, cleaning and testing and is required under the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal legislation that provided emergency funding.
Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter expects more guidance for schools this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the state of Alaska.
“We all know how we feel about this,” Kludt-Painter told the board. “We are definitely tired of talking about mitigation strategies and plans and protocols for sure. But we just need to, we’re going to have to stay the course as far as making sure we’re following good guidance and recommendations and making a good case for decisions that we are making and why we’re making them.”
The board reviewed results of a recent survey of students, staff and stakeholders at a work session the week before. Kludt-Painter and the district’s principals also updated the board at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Board member Cheryl File asked parents for patience.
“We are trying to get back to as normal as possible,” File said. “And like Erica said it’s going to constantly change but right now, hopefully we won’t have to have masks and maybe we’ll just be moving. But we’re trying to get back as normal as possible, that’s our goal. So please be patient with us. We’re just doing what we’re being told to do.”
District officials say the amount of in-person learning that happened this past year was a success for the local public schools, especially compared to other parts of the country that spent most of the year online. Petersburg’s schools are planning for in-person learning for the new school year and the administration has already made some decisions about the new year. For instance, the middle school won’t be using the podding approach it this past year, where classes remained in place and did not mix with other students during the day. Superintendent Kludt-Painter said a change like that could impact how masks are used.
Principal Rick Dormer also said the upper grades are not offering any hybrid of in person and remote learning next year, with exceptions for extended illnesses or activity travel.
“Partially at home partially here that is not an option for the secondary schools next year and that is just very much unanimous from the staff and it’s just based on, it made sense for this year, we’re proud of the work of our teachers did,” Dormer said, adding, “They worked really hard to make that happen and a lot of students and parents the same but it was not an effective instructional method. Learning was definitely decreased for students that were home and this year we made the best of it and that’s OK.”
In some ways, the schools are planning to start the new year like they ended it, with face coverings expected in the same situations and no immediate return to school after out-of-state travel. Officials are hoping to have more flexibility with a high vaccination rate and if the case count remains low. And the possibility of vaccination for students in the upper grades may make measures different in the middle and high school from the elementary school. Kludt-Painter also said the schools may start with some measures in place and make adjustments as the year progresses.
In activities the district plans to return to a pre-pandemic schedule, with high school cross country and swim starting in August and volleyball and wrestling in September.
In other news, the board approved a budget for the upcoming year with a large drop in state funding from declining student numbers.
The school district is projecting a combined 415 students in the three schools, down 11 from the school year that just ended. The drop in students means less in state per-pupil funding.
Finance director Karen Morrison presented the spending plan.
“This has definitely been the most challenging budget that I’ve had to create and present,” Morrison said. “But we have been strategizing the last five years or so as we’ve watched our student enrollment numbers fluctuate. I feel really good about this budget. It’s a solid operating budget and one that has been strategized to leverage other grant funds and also our fund balance and it will provide a robust learning environment for our students as well as supporting the board’s goals.”
The budget has spending of $8,653,087 and revenues of $8,043,406. It reflects a drop of state funding of $696,443. That means the district will spend down its fund balance by around 590,000 dollars. Emergency aid from the federal government will help the district pay some of its personnel costs over the next year.
Morrison called it a realistic budget and hoped the actual spending and revenue would be better than the plan anticipates.